Understanding Identity Theft

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With tech taking over every corner of our world, it’s only natural that digital crimes like identity theft are increasing in popularity. According to Life Lock, nearly 60 million Americans were affected by some form of identity theft in 2018. We can only expect those numbers to rise as the years go by.

That being said, the best way to protect yourself and your family from identity theft is to understand the crime of identity theft and it’s many forms. In this article, we’re going to bring you up to speed on what identity theft is and how digital criminals leverage tech to steal your identity.

The Basics

What is identity theft?  Identity theft is the crime of posing as another individual on the internet (and in rare cases- in real life).  Nearly all identity theft crimes fall under two categories:

  1. True name theft: A person will use another individual’s personal information to create accounts, open credit cards, and use lines of credit.
  2. Account takeover: A person will use a victim’s already existing accounts to rack up credit cards bill, make debit withdrawals, and so on.

Though there are countless ways for a person to perform identity theft, the majority of these crimes fall into:

  • Tax-related theft. A criminal may use a victim’s social security number to file a false tax return.
  • Health insurance theft. Cases of health insurance theft are due to criminals stealing a citizen’s health insurance information in order to gain coverage for themselves.
  • Child identity theft. Are you one of the many 18-year-olds who found a car had been bought in their name before they could drive? Child identity theft crimes take place when a criminal uses a child’s social security number and name to purchase a car, open government benefits, and so on.
  • Senior citizen theft. As senior citizens are often easier to confuse, they’re often the target of online and offline identity theft crimes. This can range from stealing bank accounts to applying for loans.

With the basics of how identity theft is performed in writing, let’s move on to how to protect yourself from identity theft.

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

There are dozens of ways for criminals to steal personal information- both online and offline. From small one-off crimes to large data breaches, there are various practices people can use to lower their chance of having their identity stolen.

Online

  • Do not put your personal information on websites without HTTPS in the URL. HTTP websites are not secure and are ten times more likely to be hacked than those with a HTTPS.
  • Never put personal information into a website on a public computer, WiFi Network, or unknown device.
  • Use strong passwords. Avoid using the same password for everything. Think about it: If they have one of your passwords, they have them all.
  • Consider using a security service like Last Pass or a VPN network to make sure your internet connection is private.
  • Use two-factor verification whenever you can. After all, the chances they have your cell phone are incredibly low.

Offline

  • Never write passwords for websites down a piece of paper. If someone steals the paper, they will be able to steal your identity online without ever stealing your wallet.
  • Don’t leave your personal belongings unattended in public.
  • Never share your PIN or card numbers with anyone over the phone (call or text).
  • Use a lockbox or safe to keep sensitive materials like your social security card and bank statements safe.

The golden rule for keeping your information secure is: If you’re not sure it’s safe, it isn’t.

Common Signs of Identity Theft

Unfortunately, identity theft is hard to catch early and is usually detected after a person is already suffering from the effects of the crime. To minimize your risk, be aware of the common signs of identity theft:

  • Unusual account activity. Getting notifications that your account has been logged on to by an unusual device? Time to change your passwords and ramp up security.
  • Social media break-ins. Some identity theft starts with stealing social media accounts. You may recognize this has happened to you by logging and realizing there are messages or posts that you did not create. If this is the case, immediately change your passwords and contact the support of the social media service you’re using. Social media networks like Facebook have an entire reporting center dedicated to this process.
  • Random delivery notices. Got a notice that your package will be arriving soon? Well, if you haven’t ordered anything it’s time to change those passwords and contact your bank.
  • Unrecognized charges. The benefit of bank statements goes deeper than keeping your finances in order. They also allow you to find small charges that are unrecognized before they become big ones. If you’re seeing charges from establishments you know you haven’t visited, contact your bank immediately.

If you’re finding these signs a bit too late, the best thing you can do is contact your bank, change your passwords, and begin putting blocks on every account that may be compromised. For some, this will include calling collection agencies to inform them that your identity has been stolen.

Have you been a victim of identity theft? What do you wish you’d known to watch out for? Share your story in the comments, you may just save someone’s identity.

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