Identity theft – it’s a terrorizing prospect that can make even the most fearless among us uneasy. We’ve all heard the horror stories of it, but what is it, exactly? What type of information is at risk and how can you protect yourself from becoming a victim? Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re looking for answers. You’ve come to the right place! In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into what identity theft is, the kind of damage it can do, and how to guard against it. No more worrying – let’s get started!
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a term that describes a broad range of criminal activities that involve the acquisition and unauthorized use of an individual’s personal information. Criminals use this information to pose as someone else and commit various types of fraudulent activities such as fraudulently obtaining credit cards, transferring money from bank accounts, and opening new lines of credit under someone else’s name. As advanced technology simplifies the means to acquire and manipulate personal information, identity theft continues to be one of the fastest growing crimes worldwide.
Given its complexity, some may argue that identity theft is simply too difficult for individuals to prevent. Statistical evidence suggests otherwise. According to a 2013 Identity Fraud Report, over 41 million victims in the United States were affected by identity fraud in 2012 alone. By following certain procedures such as regularly monitoring financial accounts and creating strong passwords, individuals can go a long way toward preventing this crime.
Types of Identity Theft
Identity theft, as discussed in the previous section, is a serious crime that can have devastating effects on a person’s finances and credit. Criminals use a variety of methods to steal personal information and carry out various types of identity theft. While not all types of identity theft are as well known as others, it’s important to be aware of the different types so you can protect yourself from being victimized.
One type of identity theft is new account fraud. In this type of scam, criminals use stolen information to open credit cards or other financial accounts in someone else’s name. This can result in a victim being held responsible for the debts incurred by the perpetrator and damaging their credit score and reputation.
Another type of identity theft is tax-related identity theft, where criminals file taxes using someone else’s Social Security number. This could cause victims to have difficulty filing taxes and can have major financial implications down the line. Criminals may also attempt to commit government benefits fraud using stolen information to illegally obtain public assistance funds.
Criminals may also use stolen identities to commit medical identity theft, which occurs when someone uses another person’s medical insurance policy to pay for medical care they do not need or services they did not receive. This can lead to increased health costs, inaccurate medical records, and potential denial of services due to insurance coverage issues.
Criminals may use stolen identities to commit employment fraud by posing as an individual with false credentials such as Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses when applying for jobs or purchasing goods or services with false identification.
How Does Someone Become a Victim of Identity Theft?
Identity theft can be incredibly damaging but it is often preventable if individuals are cautious and aware of the common tactics used by identity thieves. But how does a person become a victim of identity theft? The answer depends on the knowledge, resources, and capabilities of the perpetrator. In some cases, an individual can become a victim simply by having their personal information stolen through hacking or social engineering scams. Perpetrators may rely on more advanced measures like creating fraudulent accounts with stolen identification documents or redirecting mail to gain access to confidential information.
The risks of identity theft increase for those who have weaker security measures in place- for example, those who travel frequently or share personal information online without understanding the consequences. It is also true that identity thieves tend to target vulnerable individuals and organizations as they have less protection against attacks. A person or organization with strong knowledge of security practices and strict policies regarding employee access to confidential data can reduce their risk of being targeted by an identity thief.
Stolen Personal Information & Criminals Impersonating Victims
When someone falls victim to identity theft, it can be difficult to know exactly what the perpetrator is going to do with their stolen personal information. Stolen personal information can be used for malicious purposes such as creating false accounts, forging checks or documents, purchasing goods in the victim’s name, taking out loans and even growing a criminal enterprise under their stolen identity. Even more devious criminals may even go so far as to impersonate their victims.
There are two sides to this argument; some say that since complete identity theft is unfortunately inevitable, fake impersonations are inevitable too. If criminals have complete access to another individual’s identity-whether through hacked systems or stealing wallets-, they will most likely use this data in whatever way they see fit. Other people argue that if proper protective measures were taken by companies and individuals alike, false impersonations could be avoided or at least significantly minimized.
Recent surveys have borne out the latter viewpoint; for example, a study conducted by McAfee found that over 75% of adults in the United States feel that businesses should take proactive steps to protect customer data from cybercriminals and 80% of respondents were concerned about online security threats related to their own personal data. This indicates that if everyone takes responsibility and puts in a bit of effort towards making sure their accounts and sensitive data are secure, incidents of identity theft -including impersonations- can be greatly reduced.
The Consequences of Identity Theft
Once a criminal has obtained your personal information, the consequences of identity theft can be severe. Those who fall victim to ID theft might experience financial loss, damaged credit, and other forms of harm. It can lead to criminal charges for crimes that were not committed by the victim or cause strain to the relationship between the victim and financial institutions or employers.
The amount of financial losses incurred by victims of identity theft depends on the type of crime that was committed with their stolen information. Someone committing credit card fraud will not have identical costs associated with recovering as someone whose Social Security number was used to open illegal bank accounts or file fraudulent tax returns. Even smaller instances of theft such as account takeovers, wherein criminals gain access your existing online banking and credit accounts, can cause significant losses.
In addition to a financial loss, victims may experience emotional turmoil caused by months of frustration, fear, and anxiety as they work their way through a complex process to restore their identities. ID theft can also negatively impact a person’s employment prospects if the thief applies for jobs or loans while using the victim’s name and personal information. Employers may refuse to hire or even fire employees due to bad credit created by an identity thief.
Steps to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is by taking proactive steps to guard your personal information. Although identity theft can have serious consequences, in many cases it can be prevented by following some simple steps.
Be aware of phishing scams and internet fraud. Phishing scams use deceptive emails and websites to collect your personal information or get you to download malicious software. Be wary of any email that asks for your personal information, or links to a website requesting such data. If you think something is suspicious, do not click on any links provided and delete the message right away. Do not respond to any email solicitations unless you are sure they are legitimate.
Take measures to protect your financial information. Utilize strong passwords to access banking accounts and other systems that contain sensitive data. It’s best to use passwords that are unique and unrelated to personal information (such as favorite foods, animals, etc.). It is also important to regularly update passwords so that they remain secure. Consider using two-factor authentication when possible as this provides an additional layer of security for logging onto online accounts.
An effective way to monitor any suspicious activity on your accounts is by setting up transaction alerts at most banks. This will allow you to be notified via text or email of any transactions made with your account so that you can quickly detect any fraudulent activity and contact the bank immediately. You should also check your credit reports at least once per year for accuracy and signs of potential identity theft. Be aware of how and where you store important documents containing your personal information such as passports and Social Security cards; these kinds of documents should be kept in a safe place whenever possible.
Although it may seem like common sense, don’t share too much personal information on social media networks or other public places as this can make it easier for people to commit identity theft against you. Scammers can use these sites to find out bits of information about your life which they can then use in more sophisticated attacks. However, if done properly this risk can largely be minimized.
Responses to Frequently Asked Questions with Explanations
What information do identity thieves typically target?
Identity thieves typically target personal information such as Social Security numbers, credit card or bank account numbers, passwords, mother’s maiden name and other identifying data. They may also go after medical records and health insurance information, cell phone accounts, driver’s license numbers, and even biometric data like fingerprints and retinal scans. Armed with this stolen information, identity thieves can open new accounts in your name or use your accounts to make unauthorized purchases. They can also hijack existing accounts, drain assets from them, rack up debts in your name, and wreak havoc on your credit history.
What measures can I take to protect my identity from theft?
There are several measures that you can take to protect your identity from theft. One of the most important is safeguarding your personal information by ensuring that you never share your Social Security number, account numbers or passwords with anyone else. It’s important to be aware where your personal documents, such as your Social Security card, birth certificate, and passport, are kept. Be sure to store these items in a secure location, such as a locked safe or filing cabinet.
You should also take steps to protect yourself online. Make sure not to click on any suspicious links or attachments in emails and text messages, especially if they come from unknown parties. Invest in a secure password management application to keep all of your credentials protected across multiple services and devices. It’s important to monitor your financial accounts regularly for any fraudulent activity by reviewing bank statements and credit reports regularly.
How can I tell if my identity has been stolen?
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, there are a few things you can do to confirm it. Check your credit report and look for unusual activity or new accounts opened in your name. You can request a free copy of your credit report from the three major bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Contact any accounts you haven’t opened or used recently to confirm that their records match yours. If the information doesn’t match up or if a company claims you have an account with them that you never opened, then it’s likely that your identity has been stolen.
You should also keep an eye on your bank accounts and review all monthly statements closely for any suspicious-looking transactions. Talk to your bank if you notice any charges that don’t seem familiar. It’s also important to monitor your email accounts as cybercriminals may attempt to use them to open additional fraudulent accounts.
If you receive letters from debt collectors demanding payment for unpaid bills, then it’s another sign that somebody is using your personal information without your permission.
Any of these red flags could indicate that your identity has been stolen, so it’s important to act quickly and report the activity to the appropriate authorities.
How does identity theft typically happen?
Identity theft typically happens when someone obtains and uses another person’s personal information without their knowledge or consent. This could include names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, bank account details, credit card numbers, contact information and other identifying characteristics. Criminals can use this information to open unauthorized accounts, make purchases, access benefits and otherwise impersonate the victim. In some cases they may even create a completely new identity using stolen data.
In many instances criminals obtain personal information from sources such as data breaches or unsecure websites. Other methods used include stealing mail or wallets, rifling through trash for shredding documents that haven’t been properly destroyed, obtaining employment records, conning people into giving them the required details and more.
The best way for people to shield themselves from identity theft is by constantly monitoring their credit reports and financial accounts for any suspicious activity. One should take steps to limit sharing of personal data online and keep any paper documents with sensitive information in a safe place at home.
What should I do if I become a victim of identity theft?
If you become a victim of identity theft, it is important to take immediate action. The first step should be to contact the Federal Trade Commission and your local law enforcement authorities to report the crime and document your loss. Contact all three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—to request a fraud alert on all of your accounts. This will alert creditors to verify any changes made to your accounts before they can be approved. You may want to consider placing a credit freeze on your accounts, which will prevent anyone from opening any new accounts in your name.
If you believe that someone has access to any of your existing financial accounts (e.g., credit card or bank account) or other sensitive information such as Social Security or driver’s license numbers, you should contact those organizations immediately and change your passwords and access credentials. Watch out for potential scams related to identity theft and always safeguard personal information by monitoring financial accounts regularly and taking advantage of two-factor authentication whenever possible.