Identity theft is a huge problem. Every year, millions of people have their identity stolen. This can lead to a lot of problems, including credit card fraud, bank fraud, and even imprisonment.
In this blog post, we will discuss 5 tips that will help you protect your online identity from theft. Following these tips will help keep you safe online and minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft!
Identity theft, though not usually a crime involving an individual’s physical safety, can still destroy a victim’s reputation and good community standing. It affects our entire persona, if you will. As if being a victim of crime is not enough, identity theft is distinctive as a crime in that there is an initial presumption of guilt. A victim must establish beyond “reasonable doubt” that they are innocent of any wrongdoing.
What is Online Identity theft?
Answer: Online identity theft is the act of stealing an individual’s confidential information such as banking detail or social security numbers, to gain unauthorized access to accounts, personal data and other sensitive information that can be used for fraudulent activities or identity fraud.
Online identity theft is a type of cybercrime where the thief steals personal information from an individual, typically with the intention to commit financial fraud. The stolen information might include social security numbers, credit card details, bank account information, usernames and passwords, etc.
Methods of Identity Theft
- Phishing: This involves sending fraudulent emails disguised as credible entities to trick individuals into revealing their personal information.
- Spyware & Malware: These are malicious software programs that can be unknowingly installed on your computer, collecting your private data.
- Data Breaches: When a company’s database is hacked, the personal information of customers or users can be compromised.
- Social Engineering: This involves manipulating people into giving up their personal information, often by posing as a trustworthy entity.
Identity Theft as a Crime
Identity theft is defined as someone acquiring another’s personal information – name, Social Security Number, credit card and/or debit card numbers, driver’s license, or other personal identifying information – and using it to assume that identity for unlawful purposes. The unlawful purposes usually involve some form of monetary gain.
However, there is a darker side to identity theft that can result in immeasurably more dreadful legal entanglements. Both criminals and terrorists are known to assume new identities to evade detection by law enforcement authorities. Crimes that are committed under an assumed identity are considered, at least initially, the work of the victim of the identity theft!
Few statistics about online identity theft
Although identity theft has been around for a long time, the federal government did not classify the act as a federal crime until 1998. Like all crime, statistics for identity theft are available from both government and private sector sources. Unlike most crime, identity theft statistics are difficult to report as statistically current.
Up to 18 percent of identity theft victims are unaware of the theft for four or more years according to an Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) Aftermath Study from 2004. Maybe you didn’t know, but:
From 2005 to 2009, 500 million records from government and corporate sources were compromised because of data breaches (Javelin Strategy and Research, 2009).
• Thefts as a result of stolen purses, wallets or hardcopy paperwork accounted for 43 percent of total thefts (Javelin Strategy and Research, 2009).
• Seven percent of all identity thefts were medical identity thefts. (AARP)
• In 2010, personal information thefts unrelated to money were 29.4 percent of total thefts (U.S. Department of Justice, 2011)
• Child identity theft occurs at the rate of 20,000 cases per year (reported by the FTC)
These statistics do not begin to represent all of the cases of identity fraud. It is estimated that each year there are approximately 2 million cases of stolen identities from the dead.
5 examples of online identity theft
Here are 5 examples of online identity theft that have been in the news:
- Capital One Data Breach (2019): In July 2019, Capital One announced that a hacker had stolen the personal information of over 100 million customers and applicants, including names, addresses, phone numbers, and credit scores. The hacker was able to exploit a vulnerability in Capital One’s firewall to gain access to the data.
- Marriott International Data Breach (2018): In November 2018, Marriott International announced that hackers had accessed the personal information of up to 500 million customers, including names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, and credit card numbers. The data breach occurred in the Starwood Hotels guest reservation database, which Marriott had acquired in 2016.
- IRS Tax Fraud (2015): In 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported a significant increase in tax fraud schemes involving stolen identities. Cybercriminals would obtain stolen identities through various means, such as phishing scams, and then use the information to file fraudulent tax returns and claim refunds.
- Ashley Madison Data Breach (2015): In July 2015, hackers breached the database of Ashley Madison, a dating website that catered to people seeking extramarital affairs. The hackers posted the personal information of millions of Ashley Madison users online, including names, addresses, and credit card numbers. This data breach led to significant embarrassment and consequences for the users whose information was exposed.
- Yahoo Data Breaches (2013-2014): In 2013 and 2014, Yahoo experienced two significant data breaches that exposed the personal information of over 1 billion users. The stolen information included names, email addresses, dates of birth, and passwords. These data breaches ultimately resulted in a decline in Yahoo’s reputation and value, and the company faced significant legal consequences.
If there is a positive aspect to be found here, it is that in 2010 the reported cases of identity theft dropped by 28 percent. Correspondingly, the losses sustained as a result of those identity thefts are lower. The bad news is that thefts related to smart phones and social media sources are trending upward (Javelin Strategy & Research).
Perhaps as law enforcement agencies improve their ability to identify and prosecute perpetrators, and government agencies and corporate entities continue to improve their security we can be hopeful that these numbers will continue to fall.
Tips to protect your online identity from identity theft
Tip #1: Create strong passwords
One way to protect your online identity is to create strong passwords. A strong password is one that is at least eight characters long and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid using easily guessed words like your name or birthdate.
Instead, try to come up with a phrase that you can easily remember but would be difficult for someone else to guess. For example, “I love spending time outdoors” could become “Ilsto!” Once you have created a strong password, be sure to change it regularly (every few months) and never use the same password for more than one account.
Another way to protect your online identity is to be careful about the personal information you share online. Be cautious about what you post on social media sites and only share information that you are comfortable with others knowing. Avoid sharing sensitive information like your Social Security number or bank account number. Also, be aware of the privacy settings for each social media site you use and make sure that only people who you want to see your information can access it.
Tip #3: Be cautious about the websites you visit and the emails you open
In addition to being careful about the personal information you share online, you should also be cautious about the websites you visit and the emails you open. Only visit websites that are secure (look for “HTTPS” in the URL) and avoid clicking on links or opening attachments from unknown sources. If you are unsure about a website, do some research to make sure it is legitimate before entering any of your personal information.
Tip #4: Keep your computer and mobile devices secure
An important way to protect your online identity is to keep your computer and mobile devices secure. Install security software on all of your devices and keep it up-to-date. This will help to protect you from malware and viruses that could steal your personal information. In addition, be sure to create backups of important files in case your computer or device is lost or stolen.
Tip #5: Be aware of phishing scams
Another tip for protecting your online identity is to be aware of phishing scams. Phishing scams are attempts by criminals to trick you into revealing personal information or login credentials masquerading as a legitimate website or email.
Be suspicious of any emails or websites that ask for personal information or login credentials. If you are unsure about a message, do not respond to it and instead contact the company directly to verify its authenticity.
Summary pointers to prevent online identity theft
Here are some preventive measures for online identity theft:
- Use strong passwords and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.
- Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.
- Keep your computer and software updated with the latest security patches.
- Use a reputable anti-virus and anti-malware software.
- Be cautious when clicking on links or downloading attachments in emails, especially from unknown sources.
- Use secure connections (https) when transmitting sensitive information online.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks for sensitive activities like online banking.
- Be careful with the information you share online, such as your full name, address, birthdate, and social security number.
- Monitor your bank and credit card statements regularly for any suspicious activity.
- Consider using a credit monitoring service to help detect and prevent fraud.
- Shred any documents containing sensitive information before throwing them away.
- If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, take immediate action by contacting your financial institutions and credit reporting agencies.
What to Do If You’re a Victim
- Contact Financial Institutions: Immediately alert your bank, credit card companies, and other financial institutions.
- Report to the Authorities: File a report with your local police and contact your national or regional fraud reporting agency.
- Change All Passwords: Update the passwords and security questions for all your online accounts.
- Monitor Your Credit Reports: Look for any unusual activity in your credit reports over the following months and years.
Identity theft can have a devastating impact on your life, so it is important to take steps to protect yourself. In addition to following the tips above, you should also consider identity theft protection services like credit monitoring or identity theft insurance. These services can help to protect you from financial loss and provide you with peace of mind.
By following these tips, you can help protect your online identity from theft. Identity theft is a serious problem, but by taking precautions and being aware of the risks, you can minimize your chances of becoming a victim.
If you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to protecting your online identity. However, if you do suspect that your identity has been stolen, it is important to act quickly. Contact the proper authorities and take steps to recover your identity before it is too late. Don’t let identity theft ruin your life – take action today to protect yourself.