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How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft is a word that is tossed around quite liberally these days. However, most people don’t recognize the dangers of it and take very few steps to protect their personal information from identity thieves. To protect your identity and learn how cybercriminals obtain your personal details, keep reading.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when someone uses your personally identifiable information (PII) without your permission and impersonates you while committing fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can happen when a stranger steals your identity, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be someone you know, like a family member or close friend.

Identity thieves use your personal information to do things such as opening new credit card accounts, taking out loans, renting property, accessing your bank accounts, using your health plan, or even filing tax returns in your name. 

The worst scenario is when an identity thief uses your identity and commits crimes or felonies. For example, you could find out that police have an arrest warrant out in your name, even when you did nothing wrong. 

Identity thieves typically target the following information:

  • Your name and address
  • Birthdate
  • Mobile phone number
  • Email address
  • Social security number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Passport number
  • Credit card details
  • Bank account information
  • Usernames and passwords

These and other pieces of information can be used to piece together a fake profile on you to wage further attacks. Some signs of identity theft are: 

  • You stop receiving important mail
  • You are turned down for credit or loans
  • Your credit report shows accounts you did not open
  • You notice transactions on your credit card or bank statements that are not yours
  • You receive bills for purchases you did not make
  • Creditors alert you to fraud on your account

Related: 7 Tips to Prevent Identity Theft Online

Cybercriminals’ Methods to Steal Your Identity 

Unfortunately, cybercriminals have become very skilled at stealing identities in various ways. Some of the most common ways that a criminal gets your personally identifiable information (PII) are:

1. Stolen Purses and Wallets

Most people carry around a lot of sensitive information in their purses and wallets. If you lose yours or it is stolen, the information could be easily used for identity theft.

2. Stealing Mail or Trash

Believe it or not, thieves often rummage through strangers’ trash to find credit card statements, bank details, or other vital documents. Some even steal your mail right out of the mailbox. 

3. Change of Address Cards

Sometimes, scammers will fill out a change-of-address form in your name to reroute your essential documents directly to themselves. 

4. ATM Skimming

Through ATM skimming, threat actors can grab your credit or debit card details along with PIN and other information just by paying at the pump at the gas station or using a local ATM. They work by putting a fake device over the regular card reader or keypad that scans your card or records your pin when you use it.

5. Malware

Target and Home Depot were the victims of a data breach because hackers installed malware on the payment terminals at each register. Information is stolen through malware directly (on your device) and indirectly (through a third-party device or service you use).

Related: How Can You Tell If Your PC or Mac Has Malware

6. Public Wi-Fi

Connecting your computer or mobile phone to an unsecured network like the local coffee shop is a way man-in-the-middle attackers could steal your personal details. 

7. Social Engineering Tactics

Scammers use social engineering tactics to get victims to trust them, sometimes on social media, dating websites, and even through fake ads with malicious links.

8. Phishing Attacks

Hackers send very convincing-looking emails to trick recipients into providing logins and other personal information. Sometimes they try to get users to click a link which then infects their computer with info-stealing software. 

9. Data Breaches

Most Americans have been the victim of at least one of the many data breaches that have occurred within the past few years. All that information shows up on the dark web for sale by hackers.

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

To protect yourself from identity theft, follow these simple steps below:

  • Password-protect all your devices.
  • Use very long, strong passwords made up of letters (both upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols. Use a password manager to help you create and save secure passwords.
  • Educate yourself on phishing attacks and know precisely what to look for. Verify each sender’s email before performing an action with an urgent message.
  • Sign up for identity theft monitoring with a reputable company.
  • Dark web scans can help you to find out what information is out there on you.
  • Never give out personal information over the phone or via email when requested by someone you don’t know, and you didn’t initiate the conversation.
  • Check your credit reports annually for any unusual activity and accounts you don’t recognize.
  • Shred sensitive documents before throwing them away.
  • Safeguard your social security number. Leave your SS card at home when you don’t need it.
  • Audit your online accounts and limit the information stored there.
  • Verify all your privacy and security settings on social media.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication whenever it is offered for all accounts.
  • Regularly review credit card and bank statements for any unauthorized transactions.

Related: 6 Cyber Security Tips for Small Businesses

What to do When You Fall Victim to Identity Theft

If you do fall victim to identity theft, take action quickly to fix the problem. 

  • Change all your online passwords and even your on-device logins. 
  • Contact your financial institutions to alert them of this problem. You may have to contact vendors and prove your identity was stolen, and you are not responsible for specific charges.
  • Contact all three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) and put a fraud alert on your credit. 
  • Consider a credit freeze and contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the abuse.

Now that you have all the information about identity theft don’t wait another minute. Take action and quickly and easily secure your personally identifiable information (PII)  to keep it out of the hands of hackers and identity thieves. Protecting yourself now is much easier than clearing up the mess of identity theft later.

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