Have you ever wondered how different your life would’ve been if you could be anybody or anything you wanted to be? Maybe turn into Super Man or Wonder Woman in the blink of an eye. While it might be a laughable desire for you, there are people out there who take this a little too seriously.
It is wishful thinking when you dream of it, but it becomes identity theft when you go ahead and impersonate someone else, of course not your favorite comic book character.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is the act of willingly using someone else’s information to impersonate them to reap the benefits of their identity or use it to cause harm/loss to their identity.
These benefits could be financial, medical, legal, and so on. The information used is mostly their Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
This can happen to an individual or a business. Identity theft to an individual puts him/her at risk and the people associated with them.
Business Identity theft is when a business or its employee is impersonated that can cause severe information loss to the employee and their clients. It also damages the reputation of the company apart from the noticeable financial loss.
What’s at stake for you?
If the term, Identity theft doesn’t alarm you, then, unfortunately, it should. Identity theft leaves a lasting effect on the victim’s finance, as well as emotional and physical health.
According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud, which cost them $16 billion.
Financial losses aside, among the identity theft respondents, 84% of them could no longer have a decent sleep habit, 77% of them had elevated stress levels, 59% were depressed, and 69% were unable to trust others according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
And these are natural reactions. 22% of the victims had to take time off work to recover from such incidents.
These crimes are not only an economic crisis. Identity theft is the digital equivalent of getting your house ransacked. Here you are always at a threat knowing that someone was in your home, took your stuff, and mostly, this thief has access to breaking in again. You won’t know what information of yours they now possess and how they could ruin your life. They are bound to give anyone sleepless nights.
If you still think this is not very common, let’s put things into perspective. In the US, every two seconds there is a victim of identity theft, according to Clark.
By the time you read that sentence, identities were stolen.
This time, it was probably not you. So, let’s discuss how we can keep it that way — keeping your identity far from the hands of bad actors. Let’s understand how identity theft occurs and how you can recognize if you have become a victim.
After all your bulletproofing, if your identity is still stolen, we will also discuss your action points to fix it and put an end to it quickly.
How does identity theft happen?
When a data breach occurs, sometimes you can pinpoint exactly where did you falter, and you know how your information was accessed. Other times, it is merely not feasible to understand which daily activity of yours enabled a hacker to access your information.
Let’s discuss some of the possibilities so that henceforth you are vigilant:
Technology-based identity theft:
These are thefts were the hacker has schemed technically to steal your personal information directly from you.
How does this happen: This is an attempt by the hacker to extract information from you while pretending to be a trustworthy entity. For example, the hacker might send an email that is similar to your bank’s ID or requests you to enter personal details on a website that is almost identical to your bank.
What can you do: Be vary whenever you are sharing personal information, bank details, or transferring money. You might be able to differentiate between an impersonator and the real trustworthy party if you are careful enough. Simple methods like noticing if the website URL has http:// instead of https:// should stop you from entering personal details.
How does this happen: These are disguised as advertisements on the websites. They prompt you to download files with malware threats.
What can you do: Be wary of where you browse on the internet and have effective antivirus in place to prevent the effect of any accidentally downloaded links.
How does this happen: This is similar to phishing but in a voice format. The caller pretends to be from a trusted source and extract information from you.
What can you do: Read the warning messages your banks/wallets send you. Many times these enterprises make it clear what information can be asked. They clarify that sensitive information will not be asked by an actual representative. Do not convey such information on the phone; ask them for a formal written request instead.
How does this happen: The malware that is unfortunately on your device is used to track all your keystrokes. This is basically like typing your information to them on a platter.
What can you do: Nip it in the bud! Use effective antivirus, which can detect the presence of malware before you can do any damage.
How does this happen: The packets that travel into your network are bugged to exploit the sensitive data you have shared.
What can you do: This can happen easily on sites which lack the SSL encryption protocol, i.e., http:// instead of https://. Know this vital difference and be proactive when you are sharing information.
Other common methods: Simple yet effective
The bad actors are not always crouched on their laptop typing out a code aggressively to exploit your data. They can be anybody who is taking a stroll in your street.
- Your trash is someone else’s identity – Yes, you read that right. How many times have shredded your bills before disposing them into the trash? Dumpster diving can easily allow someone to obtain your information using which they could possibly extract some more information and violate your identity.
Be sure to shred these documents and consider making your bills digital to avoid this hassle.
- Go, get your mail – If you are out of town, who picks your mail? Is it sitting there in your mail box for you? Unless someone with a bad intention gets to them before you. Your mail might carry crucial PII. You cannot afford to let it fall into the hands of a bad actor.
When you aren’t at home, it might be best to ask your neighbor to take care of it for you. Even if you don’t like them too much, your neighbor might be the thin line between identity theft and safety.
- Awareness is key! Do you know what your house looks like before you leave for the day? Do you know where the TV, remote, microwave, and a week’s laundry has piled up? Great! Are you this aware of your digital assets, as well?
You must be aware of how your bank statements look like regularly. Whenever there is a discrepancy you will know that something is not right.
- Don’t carry sensitive documents, unless necessary. Your social security cards must be safely tucked away. If you carry it everywhere you go, you are increasing your chances of losing it or someone physically stealing it from you.
- Passwords are still everything- Ensure your passwords are not written on a piece of paper or something that can be decoded with little information about you, like your birth date.
Wherever possible, ensure you have two-factor authentication enabled.
On a business level, ensure all your employee accounts are safe with multi-factor authentication and adaptive MFA. This ensures whenever there is a suspicious login, the security is ramped up with additional layers.
Tell-tale signs of identity theft
Now you know what the possibilities of identity theft every day are. But let’s understand how you can recognize if you have become a victim of identity theft.
If you find yourself asking these questions, then rest assured, your identity has been breached.
- Why am I not receiving important mail?
- Why am I not getting the approval for a new credit card?
- Why is my credit score so low?
- Why is there an additional tax return filed under my name?
- Why is my health insurance not covering me anymore?
- Why are there unrecognized activities on my bank transaction?
- Why is this debt collector behind me for a debt I never conceived?
- Why is there an unrecognized activity on my social media accounts?
What can you do if your identity has been stolen?
- Don’t panic!
It is easy to lose perspective when you realize that your identity has been stolen. It is surely infuriating, but there are several steps you can take to ensure you don’t suffer because of this. Remember, identity theft does not necessarily have to end up with you losing all your money and hair. You can safeguard yourself and checkmate the hacker.
Staying calm is key, as the processes that you must take might seem overwhelming and complicated.
- Notify the bank
Most banks have zero liability charges. The key is to inform as soon as the incident takes place as the liability charge increases if you delay in letting them know.
- Credit Reporting Agencies
There are three major CRAs: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Notify at least one of them, and that one will be liable to notify the other two. They look for information about you, your credit habits and in case any collections agency is after you, they will get them off your back.
- Fraud alert
Turn on fraud alert on your account, which means any time a new account activity is requested you have to enter an additional PIN to request/receive it. This can last from one year to seven years.
- Credit report freeze
You are entitled to receiving one free credit report from each CRA. Go through it well for any suspicious activity. You can also freeze your credit report, which stops credit bureaus from giving out your information without your approval.
- Police report
Your local police must be notified. Although they may not be able to deal with directly, it helps leave a documented paper trail.
- Block damaging information
Ensure you request blocking of damaging information of theft from your credit report. Else it might affect your future transactions.
- Clean up your passwords
Make sure you change the passwords of the affected account. If you have used the same password elsewhere, change those too.
- Replace the affected cards
If your Social Security Card has been stolen, quickly let the officials know and request for a replacement.
- Data breach
If your identity has been compromised in a data breach, be sure to know what your rights are. Some companies provide you free credit monitoring service, which can save you a whole lot of trouble.
We have covered a journey from understanding what is identity theft, how does it happen, how to recognize it has happened and what can you do if it has.
As they say, knowledge is power. You must be aware of your identity, especially in today’s time, where you leave your digital trail everywhere you go.
Identity theft is no joke, don’t treat it like one.