Knowing how identity theft happens can help you better understand which information you need to protect and how you can avoid becoming a victim.
With the Internet, modern society is connected now more than ever. While this interconnectedness may make some things easier, less savory things, such as identity theft, seem to have become easier as well. Knowing how identity theft happens could help you better understand what information you need to help protect yourself.
1. How thieves could get your personal and financial information
Identity thieves could access your information in a myriad of ways, such as:
Dumpster diving: Criminals may go through your garbage or your recycling looking for bank statements, credit card offers, and other papers that could allow them to apply for accounts in your name.
Robbery: If you experience a break-in at home or if you are mugged, thieves may be less interested in stealing physical goods and more interested in obtaining personal documents such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, which they could use to steal your identity or sell for a pretty price on the dark web.
Phishing: Scammers may be able to steal private information electronically by sending unsolicited emails that contain software that searches computers and other devices for personal and financial data.
Phone scams: Criminals may simply call people on the phone and pretend to be an established organization, such as the IRS or a bank, in order to convince individuals to give up their personal and financial information over the phone.
Data dumps: Sophisticated hackers can rifle through the private customer data of retail stores, medical facilities, and credit card companies in order to access credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other identifying information.
2. Your online presence could hurt you
Oversharing or not making your social media accounts private enough may leave you vulnerable to identity theft. Just by looking through your social media accounts, a hacker may be able to identify your full name, home address, birthdate, and phone number. Armed with this simple information, criminals may be able to apply for credit cards or medical insurance, open a bank account, or even sign up for a driver’s license under your name.
Along with your social media accounts, the digital footprints you leave behind while online can be very risky in terms of identity theft. For example, logging on to public and unprotected Wi-Fi can leave you vulnerable to hackers, who could then use the Internet connection to glean all kinds of private information from your laptop, tablet, or phone. If you do use a public Wi-Fi connection, be careful about what information you send and receive. You should also check the web address and make sure that the name in the address bar matches the name of the establishment offering the service. Using a VPN to connect to public Wi-Fi can help minimize risks, as well.
3. You need to help protect your kids and elders, too
Adults aren’t the only targets for identity theft. Criminals have been known to steal the identity of children, especially because many parents or caregivers may not think to check their child’s credit history. Thieves may get away with stealing a minor’s identity for years because kids won’t typically access their credit history until they start taking steps toward establishing a financial record, such as applying for school loans, ID cards, or credit cards. To help protect their child’s identity, parents should request their child’s credit report each year.
The elderly are also targets for scammers as they may be vulnerable and may trust others with their information easily. Because these individuals grew up without the Internet, they may not understand what they need to do to help protect their online identity.
4. How to help protect against becoming a victim
Identity theft can happen to anyone, but by staying aware and protective of your personal information, you can help reduce your chances of becoming a victim. One important thing you can do is destroy personal documents that you no longer need, such as bank statements and credit card statements, by shredding them before disposing of them.
When it comes to your online accounts, carefully screen what you share and remove identifying information such as geo tags from photos. You should also make sure all your online passwords are unique and hard to crack —using a mix of symbols, capital letters, and numbers to make it difficult for hackers to guess them and access your accounts. You should also monitor all of your financial accounts weekly and report any discrepancies immediately.
5. Identity theft and data breaches
Even if you are very careful, criminals may still be able to access your information and steal your identity through data breaches. With the recent Equifax data breach, over 145 million people now have the potential to become victims of identity theft. Adding an extra layer of protection to your digital life by using an identity theft protection service could prove very useful. Such services can help protect your personal information by sending you alerts if suspicious activity is identified within their network, or if new accounts are opened with your Social Security number. LifeLock is one such comprehensive service.†
While technology constantly adapts to new threats, hackers and scammers adapt too, which makes helping protect against identity theft a challenge. Playing offense against hackers by helping to protect your personal information online is important, but to fully safeguard your identity, you need some defense as well. You could also use security software on your devices, such as Norton Security, to shield your computer and devices from malware and viruses and to help protect your personal information from cybercriminals.
Identity theft occurs offline too. That’s why in addition to a robust security suite, it helps if you have an identity theft protection service, like LifeLock.† The unique combination of Norton Security and LifeLock identity theft protection is the fortification that gives you the peace of mind to confidently move forward in the online and offline worlds.
These are just a few of the precautions one can take to help protect against identity theft. Keeping yourself aware of all the threats that can affect you is the first step towards a digitally safe life.
Disclaimers and references:
No one can prevent all identity theft.
†LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.
Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc.
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