There’s no foolproof way of preventing identity theft from taking place. However there are numerous ways to reduce the risk of falling under an identity theft attack.
There are number of ways an identity theft can take place. It ranges from credit identity theft, child identity theft, medical identity theft and so much more. Scammers will take advantage of any opportunity out there, for example the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Lets talk numbers
On 2016 alone a whopping 3.1 million complaints has been recorded by The Consumer Sentinel Network and 1.3 Million from those complaints are related to fraud. This is equivalent to $745 million cost to consumers. And a significant percentage of all complaints were due to identity theft at 13%. All in all, identity theft has affected 15.4 million people with $16 billion stolen on 2016. This is not only limited to credit card fraud but also to new account frauds, where cyber criminals open a new account using other people’s personal information, such as name, birthdate and security number.
How does it happen?
As more and more people become dependent on electronic data, the rise of cybercrimes is expected to continue in the coming years. Cybercriminals nowadays are becoming more creative and smarter, looking at different opportunities, not just credit cards or social media like facebook or Instagram to steal information. There are even a lot of cases where the victim or the bank don’t even realize that the account is fake or compromised even after months or years. When you become a victim of identity theft, it is recommended to take immediate actions to control the damage that a cybercriminal can do to harm you further, whether by stealing your identity or your money.
Here are 8 ways to reduce the risk of identity theft and to detect if you have already fallen victim.
1. Strong passwords per sites keeps the hackers on the side
When dealing with your online accounts, use strong complex passwords. Have a combination of lower and uppercase letters, symbols and numbers. Don’t reuse passwords because if one fails, the others will follow.
Try to use two factor authentication whenever there is a possibility. It’s always good to have another layer of security.
2. Be vigilant, set-up alerts
Many financial institutions will text or email you when transactions are made through your account. Register to this service so that you will know when and where your credit cards have been used, when withdrawals were made or when deposits happened and more.
It’s better to know what happened to your account sooner rather than later.
3. Use the shredder
Make it a habit to destroy your credit cards and bank statements after using them. Don’t just throw them with the garbage because the information on those documents can be used to impersonate you.
4. Digital Wallet for digital payments
If you’re making payments in an online store or in a local store, use a digital wallet. Digital wallet is an app containing secure digital versions of your credit cards, debit cards and even loyalty cards. Just with a tap of your phone at checkout terminals you can make payments. Transactions are encrypted and much safer because it will need the user to authorize every transaction.
5. Mobile devices: protect them
Mobile device is a major risk factor. There’s so much private information stored in the device about its user from pictures, social media accounts to bank accounts. If it falls under the wrong hands, it will cause serious damage. Take note of the following tips:
- Use strong password (not 1234) to access your phone. Most phones come with biometrics built-in so use that feature coupled with the strong passwords. Some devices come with 2 factor authentication, use it.
- Use unique passwords for your mobile device and your online accounts. If one fails others will follow (like dominos).
- Keep all your mobile applications up-to date.
- Use two-factor authentication whenever available. When it comes to sensitive accounts (like banking) use an authenticator app to handle two-factor authentication rather than using text messages.
- If you’re not using Bluetooth, turn it off. It will save your battery too.
- Use a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi
- If you receive emails from unknown sources, don’t open them. Also if it contains attachments don’t open them either. This can infect your device with malware and can also lead to a ransomware attack.
- Avoid using autofill. Yes it’s convenient to not type your credentials all the time, but if the phone falls under the wrong hands they will have easy access to your accounts.
6. Audit your financial and medical statements
When you get your bank statements, go through them very thoroughly no matter how small. Always be on your toes about recurring payments and incoming transactions.
Another place where people fall victim is when their requested with medical details. If someone is asking about your medical details, before providing information double check it. Usually they will ask for your personal details on the pretext of completing billing or filling of prescriptions. When you have medical paperwork which are no longer needed, destroy them.
7. Keep your social security numbers safe and hidden
If your social security number falls under the wrong hands, it can have a huge toll on your credit. Don’t:
- carry your social security card
- write it on a sticky note on your desk
- don’t store it on unsecure websites
- send it over public Wi-Fi
Also be vary of the people listening or watching you when providing the number to customer service representatives.
8. Oversharing on social media might not be the best thing to do
If you are constantly active on social media and will post every aspect of your life to the public, there’s a higher chance of falling under an identity theft attack (sometimes even more). Always remember to keep personal details out of the internet. By doing an analysis of a person’s social media accounts, it’s possible to build a whole new fake entity which can pose exactly like you.
In case of Identity Theft
- Ensure that you change your password for all your online accounts - from social media to emails. Make it unique for each account with 12 or more characters.
- Contact your bank to freeze your account so the cybercriminal wont be able to access your resources.
- Cancel each credit card and request new account numbers. Notify the company that someone might be using your card and check if there have been any unauthorized transactions.
- It’s good to be a little paranoid so think about all the other personal information that could have been exposed to the criminal and contact the agencies who might be impacted with this crime.
- You may want to report this to a local law enforcement agency for investigation.
All that said, we need to say that there’s no 100% fool-proof way of protecting yourself in the digital world. A waiter can take a picture of your credit card, some data breach might happen on the credit card company or a store you used recently are few of many examples where your sensitive data can be leaked from you. It’s always good practice to be vigilant and getting your data compromised does not necessarily mean your identity is stolen. The sooner you detect these problem, the faster you can fix it by reporting to the authorities/responsible parties.
In a nutshell:
- Watch out for any Phishing schemes where criminals can access your information.
- Secure your information on social media and do not divulge or post sensitive information that may be used by cybercriminals.
- Monitor your credit profile to ensure that someone is not using it.
- Install anti-virus and anti-malware to protect your device and system.
- Boost online security through a VPN service to secure your network and avoid cases of fraud and identity theft. This can help block malwares and make your navigation on public wi-fi safer.
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