Identity theft affects millions of internet users each year, and the consequences of this crime go beyond stolen names and birthdays. Victims of this crime spend a considerable amount of time and resources trying to get back their stolen credentials and reverse the damage. Criminals don’t care and will target anybody – women, children, seniors, businessmen, politicians, doctors, lawyers – it doesn’t matter to them who you are or what you do.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is intentionally using someone else’s identity to commit fraud or scams. Criminals use stolen credentials either for credit card use, credit applications, or other benefits that gain them a financial advantage – all in the other person’s name. The victim suffers financial losses and a lower credit rating because of all the debt accrued under his or her name.
There are many types of identity theft, depending on what the criminals took and how they used the data. According to the United States Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG), the most common types of ID theft are:
Financial Identity Theft
● Existing Account Fraud
A criminal gets a debit or credit card number and accesses the existing credit accounts and bank details for in-person transactions.
● New Account Identity Theft
A criminal opens a new credit account using a stolen Social Security number (SSN) and the victim’s full name.
Medical and Healthcare Fraud
Criminals attempt to receive health services and benefits in the victim’s name using stolen credentials, including the SSN, birthday, full name, and health insurance number.
Social Security Benefits Fraud
A thief can steal Social Security benefits by using the full name, SSN, and the birthday of the victim to open “my Social Security Account” (MySSA) and alter the direct deposit information and point it to his or her checking account. A thief can also claim benefits over the phone by searching for the victim’s place of birth, which is easily obtainable online.
Tax Refund Fraud
Criminals can file taxes and claim refunds in the victim’s name by using stolen credentials (full name, SSN, and date of birth or DOB).
Other Types of Fraud
All a criminal needs is a full name, DOB, SSN, and driver’s license number to perpetrate other types of fraud. A stolen driver’s license number can be turned into a fake license, and the fraudster can get insurance, rent a house, apply for a job, and commit crimes in the victim’s name.
● Reputation and Physical Harm
Some data breaches steal personal information with the sole intent of using it for stalking, blackmail, harassment, or to inflict physical or reputational harm against the victims.
● Phishing Scams
Criminals use email to send targets “phishing” emails that aim to collect more information about their target, for use in bigger crimes. Threat actors can also send text messages or even call their targets when attempting a phishing scam.
The Identity Theft Protection Checklist
Use Strong and Unique Passwords
- Do a password edit on all your online accounts to see how many of them share the same username and password. Chances are, all your accounts do, which is a recipe for disaster.
- Change your usernames and passwords immediately, and use a different one for each account.
- Create a secure password using a combination of 8-12 upper and lower case letters, numbers, and at least one symbol.
- Never use anything personal, such as names (pets, streets, etc.) and birthdays. Using “qwerty” or “12345678” is a bad idea.
Protect Your Social Security Information
- Never bring your Social Security card with you unless you have to.
- Don’t put your SSN on your checks or driver’s license and only disclose it when necessary.
- Use other types of identification whenever possible. The same rules apply to your health insurance number.
Identity Theft Monitoring
- Protect your identity by using an identity theft protection service that monitors and alerts you if your accounts or credentials have been compromised.
Use Fraud Alerts
- If you use a credit card, use their fraud protection service to alert you when there’s any suspicious activity on your account. Some services are free while others charge a small fee, but it’s worth paying for.
Carry a Thin Wallet
- A bulky wallet serves no purpose but to add weight to your pocket or bag.
- Use a smaller purse and only bring the essentials: a credit or debit card, your driver’s license, and enough cash to last the day.
Invest in a Shredder
- Identity thieves have been known to go “dumpster diving” for personal information. Ensure all unsolicited mail, old receipts, utility bills, credit card statements, and other documents with personally identifiable information get fed to a shredder.
Mix Up Your Trash
- Mix up all the shredded bills, documents, etc. and don’t throw everything in one garbage bag.
- Distribute the other shredded material in other locations such as your office, or wait until the next garbage pick up to prevent thieves from piecing the information back together.
- Get a USPS-approved lock for your mailbox, and only deposit outgoing mail at a post office or secure mailbox.
Designate a Secure Location for Important Documents.
- For your home, buy a heavy-duty safe or a lockable filing cabinet where you can store all sensitive documents.
- At the office, never leave your wallet or purse out in the open and keep them locked in a drawer or cabinet.
Consider Freezing Your Credit
- Freeze your credit if you suspect that your accounts have been compromised or you’re a victim of identity theft. Freezing your credit prevents companies from viewing your credit report. However, you’ll need to unfreeze your credit if you want to get a loan or apply for a credit card.
Identity theft is a crime of opportunity, and the best way to prevent it is by taking away a criminal’s chance to collect your information. As long as there is a physical device available (lost laptop), a backdoor (trojan), or pieces of information they can collect (SS numbers, names addresses), cybercriminals will jump on every opportunity. The good news is that identity theft can be prevented as long as you follow the rules on how to safeguard your personal information and protect your system. Having an Identity Theft Protection Checklist can help you identify what safeguards you already have in place and what you lack.
Daniel William is Content Director and a Cyber Security Consultant at IDStrong. His great passion is to maintain the safety of the organization’s online systems and networks. He knows that both individuals and businesses face the constant challenge of cyber threats. Identifying and preventing these attacks is a priority for Daniel.