According to experts, identity theft occurs once every 22 seconds in the United States. In 2022, reported cases of identity theft were at an all-time high. Although identity theft has become more common, you can decrease your risk with a few new habits.

In this article, we will explore what identity theft is, how thieves steal your identity, and what you can do to protect yourself.

What is Identity Theft?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft “occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.” 

With your information, a criminal can make large purchases on your credit card. This criminal can also change your billing address so you cannot see the charges. Or, an identity thief could use your Social Security number and health insurance to begin seeing doctors and obtain prescriptions. 

Sadly, the responsibility of identity theft usually falls on the victim. Historically, it has been difficult for victims of identity theft to charge their attacker. Victims have had to close bank accounts, move homes, and request new Social Security numbers. Recovering from identity theft is uncomfortable and time-consuming.

How do Thieves Steal your Identity

To better prevent identity theft, it is vital to understand how thieves obtain personal information from a victim.

  • Losing your wallet or purse. Purses and wallets are a gold mine for identification information and credit cards.
  • Using public wifi. Attackers can use encryption-free public wi-fi networks to monitor all communication between your device and the server. This includes any files you share or websites you visit.
  • Data breaches. When you share your information with a website, your information is saved in a database. If hacked, this database will expose your information to an attacker.
  • Obtaining documents with personal information. Mail and unshredded documents in your trash can reveal your personal information to attackers.
  • Phishing emails. Attackers can make emails that mimic official emails from places like your bank or the IRS. These emails try to lure you into giving away your personal information. They can also include attachments with malware. 
  • Looking over your shoulder. Attackers can gain information about you by looking over your shoulder at opportune times. Stealing a glance at your phone password or PIN makes it easier for an attacker to impersonate you.

How to Prevent Identity Theft

  • Always use unique passwords. It is easy to fall into the habit of reusing a password, but this leaves you at risk of identity theft. Secure passwords are unique and do not include your name, locations you frequent, or other surface-level information. It can be difficult to come up with secure passwords so we recommend browsers like Google Chrome that generate secure passwords for you. Other password managers we trust are LastPass and 1password. 
  • Be cautious of where you share your personal information. Use your discretion to determine if a website is trustworthy. Even your name and email can be used to steal your identity, so think twice when deciding to share your information with a new website. A simple google search about the website can give you valuable information about its data security.
  • Be wary of your social media presence. People who frequently post on social media websites are at increased risk of identity theft. It is unsafe to share pictures of the front of your home, your current location, or images with credit cards in the background.
  • Review your credit card bill for fraudulent charges. Frequently monitoring your bank accounts can quickly alert you to fraudulent behavior.
  • Shred personal documents. Always destroy documents that have sensitive personal information like medical reports or bank statements before disposing of them. Your trash is not secure and documents that are left intact could lead to your identity being stolen.
  • Do not carry your Social Security Card in your wallet. Your Social Security number is the gateway to severe identity theft. It is best to memorize this number and not have it on your person.
  • Be cautious about downloading email attachments. Phishers can create fraudulent emails that have malware attached. Unless you trust the source of the email, do not open any email attachments. 
  • Set daily spending limits on your credit card. This prevents an attacker from making large purchases with your credit card and could help you quickly detect fraudulent behavior.
  • Collect your mail every day. Your mail has private information about you that is vulnerable when left in your mailbox. Collecting your mail daily or locking your mailbox decreases your risk of mail theft.
  • Use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) gives you anonymity when interacting with web-based services and sites. With a VPN, your IP address is masked, protecting you from online attackers. Some popular VPN's that are well-known include Express VPN and NordVPN. For businesses and teams, OpenVPN is also a popular offering. 
  • Always wipe electronics before donating them. Your electronic devices can store your private information even if they are old and unresponsive. Before donating or disposing of electronics, be sure to wipe them.
  • Enable two-factor authentication on your accounts. Two-factor authentication requires you to use another device to authenticate your login. Using two-factor authentication stops an attacker in their tracks and will notify you that someone is logging into your account.
  • Prevent information like your home address, phone number, and other personal information from being accessible online. For most, invasive personal information can be accessed with a simple Google search. DataSeal removes your personal information from over 80 people-search websites, preserving your online privacy. 

Final Remarks

The integration of technology into daily life has made online privacy difficult. By understanding how attackers can steal your data, it is easier to maintain online security. Further, remaining diligent and incorporating the aforementioned strategies can decrease your risk of identity theft.

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