With everything going digital, including biometric (fingerprints) and authentication (personal passwords) data, rates of identity theft are increasing substantially. This information is used to verify an account holder’s identity but isn’t always secure. Maybe the account holder shared their password and info with another party, who plans to use it for no good? Maybe the information was leaked, or stolen because of a data breach?
Whatever the case, identity theft runs rampant in today’s hyper-digital world. In 2014 – dated though it may be – about 1 in 7 U.S. Residents aged 16 or older fell victim to identity theft, according to statistics from the US Department of Justice. How can you be sure you don’t become a statistic like that? Is there a clear way to protect yourself and your data?
What Is Identity Theft and How Can It Be Prevented?
In simple terms, identity theft is when a stranger or unauthorized individual uses your likeness to gain access to accounts, payment information and opportunities. There are two major forms, one of which involves an account takeover, and the other involves your actual name.
Account takeover, for instance, can be used to gain access to an existing account you own. This can then be used to purchase products, goods, services or rack up bills solely on your credit and reputation. In many cases, the unscrupulous will change personal details to reflect their own including mailing address, emails and more. Of course, they continue to use your payment details and reap the benefits of your payment accounts.
True or real-name takeovers involve using your driver’s license information, social security number and credit cards to take advantage of your privileges. Someone with an exceptionally high credit rating would make a prime target. The identity thief could pretend to be that person, take out lines of credit and loans under their name and go to town spending it. When they max out the opportunities, they will disappear and repeat the process using another victim. The real person is left to deal with the consequences and fallout.
There are many forms of identity theft in today’s world, including:
- Medical Identity Theft, where personal information is used to receive medical services or support.
- Child Identity Theft, a young or relatively new social security number is used to apply for government benefits, bank accounts, loans and more.
- Senior Identity Theft, the same as child-based theft only it involves older, often disabled seniors.
- Phishing and Digital Theft is when a fraudulent site or portal is created in the likeness of an official portal to collect sensitive information or personal details.
- Impersonation, when a thief impersonates an official brand rep or contact to deceive you into providing personal information and payment details. Many of these attacks come in the form of malware and viruses, demanding ransom from users after a computer is infected.
How Can You Prevent Identity Theft?
Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to completely prevent or eliminate the possibility of identity theft, because to participate in most programs, online or off, you have to share personal details and verifiable information. This opens you up to a potential attack or the possibility of becoming a target.
However, there are steps to slow down thieves and would-be attackers. If you’re wondering how to prevent identity theft, then always follow these basic rules and guidelines:
- If a service or company offers two-factor authentication support, enable it. This will ensure no one can access your account, even if they have the right password and account name.
- Always use a more secure URL with encryption when making purchases or sharing sensitive information. You can tell the difference because it starts with “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP.”
- Check your credit report regularly, and work with reporting bureaus to ensure its accuracy and remove unrecognized updates.
- Shred, burn or cut up any and all unsolicited credit card applications including those sent to you in the mail with mock cards.
- Keep your social security card locked at all times and do not carry it with you in your wallet, purse or handbag.
- Use strong passwords with longer character totals and always use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, along with symbols and numbers. Never use obvious dates or numbers that are publicly accessible like birth dates and anniversaries.
- Monitor any and all bills and financial statements such as credit card statements, mobile and wireless service statements and more.
If you suspect you are a victim or you believe your personal information was used fraudulently, report it at the Federal Trade Commission website as soon as possible.
Do Any of These Tips Explain How to Prevent Online Identity Theft?
If you’re wondering how to avoid identity theft on the internet and how it relates to the tips and guidelines above, you’re not alone. Many of the tips are generic and don’t directly apply to the use of online services and accounts.
Of course, the tip about creating strong passwords always applies. You can also use online services such as Have I Been Pwned to see if your email showed up in a high-profile online data breach.
Just like regular identity theft, online and account-based theft is not entirely preventable, but you can do things to slow down anyone trying to gain access.
Want more detailed resources on preventing online identity theft?
If you would like to learn more about protecting yourself, your real name and identity, and furthering a career in information security head on over to the Vista College blog.