Identity theft is like a thief in the night; it can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It is a real threat to everyone. We live in a time where so much personal information is stored online, which allows cybercriminals to steal it and use it for their gain.
A Federal Trade Commission report shows that over 1 million people fell victim to identity theft in 2022. The most common types of identity theft are credit card fraud, bank fraud, and loan or lease fraud. But, the good news is that you can avoid identity theft. Let's discover the best practices to follow to keep identity thieves away.
Identity theft is when someone illegally sneaks into your life using your personal information like your social security numbers, credit card numbers, full name, and telephone numbers for financial fraud, to gain entry to systems without your permission. This can damage your credit score, as well as your finances.
Criminals use various methods to perpetrate identity theft:
- Phishing: Phishing emails contain information designed to trick you into giving away private details, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or social security numbers. Phishing emails often look like they're from a legitimate source, like your bank or credit card company. However, the message will contain malicious links that direct you to a fake website when clicked. The website looks deceptively genuine, and once you enter your personal information, the information is captured by the cybercriminals who can use it to carry out their crimes.
- Social engineering: Social engineers manipulate people into giving away their personal information or doing things that make them vulnerable online. For example, a cybercriminal might call a person, and pretend to be from IT support. They then trick the person into giving them their password or other sensitive information.
- Data breaches: Data breaches happen when cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to a computer or mobile device and subsequently exploit a security vulnerability. This access then provides personal information for the criminals to exploit.
- Malware: Malware is malicious software that cybercriminals install on a computer or phone without the user's knowledge or consent. It can steal personal information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and banking information.
- Dumpster diving: This practice involves searching through trash cans for personal information that can be used for identity theft. Cybercriminals may look for discarded bank statements, credit card statements, and other documents that contain personal information.
Any one or more of the following signs could indicate your account might be under attack. Realizing this is the crucial step in putting a stop to this devious cybercrime.
- You receive unexpected bills or account statements. This could be from new accounts that were opened in your name without your permission, or from fraudulent charges on your existing accounts.
- You are denied credit for no reason. This could be because someone has used your identity to open new accounts and then defaulted on the payments.
- You receive calls from debt collectors about accounts that you don't recognize.
- You notice unauthorized activity on your credit report. This may be new accounts, inquiries that you didn't request, or late payments on accounts that you're current on.
- If your mail suddenly stops coming or starts being delivered to a different address, it could be a sign that someone has changed your address without your permission.
- Use strong passwords: Create unique and complex passwords for all your online accounts. Avoid using personal information, such as your name, birthday, or Social Security number, in your passwords. Consider using a password manager to help you create and manage strong passwords.
- Conduct regular pentests: Continuous pentests aids in the prevention of identity theft by detecting vulnerabilities that can be leveraged to gain access to confidential information such as social security numbers, credit card information, PII, and more. Conducting continuous pentests helps strengthen your overall security and lets you know the impact of critical vulnerabilities.
Educate yourself: Stay up-to-date on the latest cybersecurity threats and scams. Learn how to spot phishing emails and recognize social engineering scams.
Secure Wi-Fi Networks: Use strong passwords for your Wi-Fi networks to prevent unauthorized access. Avoid using default usernames and passwords for routers.
- Use Secure Websites: Ensure that websites you visit use secure, encrypted connections (look for "https://" in the URL). Avoid entering personal information on unsecured websites.
- Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA): Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security to your accounts by requiring another form of verification in addition to a password before any access is granted. This could be a code sent to your phone or email, or a fingerprint or facial recognition scan.
- Protect your information: Be careful about what personal information you share online and offline. Shred documents that contain sensitive information, such as bank statements and credit card statements. Never give out your Social Security number or other sensitive information over the phone or email unless you are certain of the recipient's identity.
- Monitor for suspicious activity: Regularly review your bank statements, credit card statements, and other financial records for any unauthorized activity. Report any suspicious activity to your financial institution immediately.
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft. But recognizing the huge impact it can have on you and your finances should drive you to protect yourself. Just as burglars come at night so as not to be seen, identity thieves can be crafty enough to go unnoticed. However, the tips mentioned in this article can help you stay vigilant and reduce the risk of falling prey to identity theft.
About the Author:
Chinemerem Henry Nwosu is a tech-savvy cybersecurity content writer with a keen interest in cloud security. He has honed his writing skills through extensive research and practical experience. In addition to writing, Henry enjoys staying up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in cybersecurity and sharing his knowledge with others. He is committed to providing clear, concise, and informative content that helps readers stay safe online. When not writing about cybersecurity, Henry can be found spending time with his family and friends. He is a freelance writer at Astra Security.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire