How to Prevent Identity Theft?

by Christo Petrov

Do you feel safe right now? Just chilling, browsing TechJury, and learning interesting stuff? Everything’s alright? Great, good for you!

But are you aware that someone who has access to your personal information could be using it right now? No? You better read this:

In this article, we continue with our efforts to keep you informed, and therefore safer, about digital threats. Today we’ll find out how to prevent identity theft. Let’s start with some statistics, to emphasize how serious and common this threat is:

  • An identity is stolen every 2 seconds.
  • In the first half of 2018, there were 609 data breaches pertaining to identity theft.
  • Identity theft is the second most common issue for U.S. customers. 13.87% of them had their credentials used, mostly for credit card frauds.
  • The most common targets of identity theft are people of age 30-39.
  • Identity thieves have stolen $16.8 billion from U.S. customers.
  • In the U.S. over 16.7 million have become victims of identity fraud at some point.
  • 6.64% of U.S. customers became victims of ID fraud in 2017.
  • More than one million children have had their identities stolen in 2017.

In the article below I will give you some tips on how to stay out of these statistics. I will emphasize on the digital protection, because we are TECH jury. But since we all live parallelly in the digital and physical world, I will point out some helpful ideas on how to be safe in the latter, too.

And like all articles, concerning cybercrimes in TechJury, I can promise you this –  by the end of this article you will have enough information to immunize yourself against cybercrimes.

Let’s get it started:

What Is ID theft?

In general, identity theft is the unauthorized access to someone’s personal information. If you want to know more check out “What is identity theft?”

Almost half of identity thefts happen digitally – 46%. The main reason behind this statistic lies in the massive data breaches, which happen almost every year.

Once your information is stolen, it could be used by the thief himself, or be put up for sale on the dark web. The prices vary from $2.29 for an email address to $1000 for a complete medical record.

When the stolen information is used for financial gain, this becomes identity fraud.

The main point of this article will be about digital ways to steal an identity and tips on how to counter those attempts. But we can’t grasp the whole picture, unless we take a look at the analog ways of stealing personal information and how to prevent those.

Physical ID Theft

Let’s begin with the physical ID theft prevention:

The most common ways of physically stealing an identity are:

Dumpster diving

This term is used for people who go through your garbage in search of useful data.

In order to prevent identity theft, you should shred all documents, containing personal information of any sort, instead of throwing them away. Next time you’re about to throw such a document in the trash, remember this.

Shoulder surfing

This is applied for situations when someone is literally staring over your shoulder to see your credentials. It is most effective in crowded places. Research shows that 91% of global visual hacking attempts were successful.

You should use biometrics when possible instead. Avoid having to input your personal information when there are people behind you, or a camera has visual of your screen. One key way to protect your identity is by being aware of your surroundings.

Of course, there is the good old classical robbery, and thieves could be after your documents as well as your valuables.

One of the main causes of analog identity theft is having your wallet lost or stolen. Safeguard it well and keep only essentials inside (you can carry only one credit card, not all of them in one place, right?).

Digital ID Theft

Now let’s continue with the main purpose of this piece. We will now look at identity theft prevention methods and how to counter the different schemes of digital identity thefts.

The most common ways for a cybercriminal to get hold of your personal data are as follows:

Hacking

The notoriously famous data breaches. A hacker, or a group, can hack into an institution, company or organization, and steal sensitive information.

Spamming

Often masked as an advertisement, this email prompts the user to click a link, or download a file that will install malware on their device.

Phishing

Email based scam. The identity thief poses as a real organization, institution or an agency. This attack leads users to a facsimile of the real website, which nevertheless asks for personal information.

Man-In-The-Middle

In general, it means someone is standing between your device and your internet connection. They’d be able to record everything you do online, including you entering your credentials. This is also known as “eavesdropping”

Keylogging

Exactly what it sounds like. It’s a malware that records every keystroke. There is a hardware version as well. In the recent past, it was used on ATM machines to steal pin codes.

If you want to know more about cyber attacks in general and how to protect yourself, see our “What is a cyber attack?” article.

So, we’ve laid the foundation – you are now aware of what’s identity theft and the ways a hacker can pull it off.  Now let’s see how to prevent identity theft.

How to protect yourself

Let’s start with the basics :

  • No financial institution will ever ask you for your personal information by email.
  • Never  share personal information on calls or emails that you didn’t initiate.
  • When reading an email, make sure the sender is legitimate. Sometimes a letter, or a whole word won’t be the same as the original. Also keep in mind a capital “i” and a lowercase “L” look pretty much the same.
  • Be careful with free Wi-Fi. Someone could be “eavesdropping”. Avoid entering personal information, like logging in to your bank account, while using free Wi-Fi. Use a VPN for free Wi-Fi networks.

Of course, these tips don’t guarantee 100% identity theft prevention, but it’s a start. We want to make criminals jump through as many hoops as possible, right? Let’s see some of the more common ways you can protect yourself.

  • Use strong passwords for all your accounts. You can find out how to do this in my “How to create a strong password?” guide.
  • Use antivirus software and firewall and keep them updated.
  • Don’t overshare on social networks. Sometimes a photo can contain certain sensitive data.
  • Place mobile/email notifications on your credit cards.
  • Monitor your bank and credit accounts. If there are charges you are unaware of, contact the bank immediately.
  • Secure your devices in order to avoid identity theft. Use screen-lock at least.
  • You can place a security freeze on your credit report if you don’t intend to open new accounts in the near future. This will prevent anyone from creating new accounts using your personal information.

These methods are available for every user and most of them cost absolutely nothing, except a tiny bit of your time. By the way, now that I mentioned time,there’s something you need to know. The average victim of identity theft spends from an average of 7 hours, and up to 1200 (in extreme cases) to resolve the problem. Following this guide is a good time investment in order to stop identity theft.

There are also some advanced protection options at your disposal if you really want to have maximum protection.

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

This is a two-step verification process. You will not only have to input a username and password, but also a one-time code from a mobile phone or another device. It isn’t available on all sites, so for those without 2FA – use strong passwords or a password manager.

3D Security for credit/debit cards

3D secure is a technical standard, developed by Mastercard and Visa. It adds another layer of protection when shopping online. When you make your purchase online, the service requests a personal code, most often a one-time PIN, delivered to you by text or email. That way if someone has stolen your identity, he won’t be able to make purchases online with your credit card.

Anti-malware software

Unlike antivirus software, which is created to protect us from viruses (only a type of malware), the anti-malware software can stop a larger number of malware attacks. These include, but are not limited to phishing, spyware, ransomware, etc. Think of it like antivirus software on steroids.

Identity theft protection services

Several companies provide their clients with identity theft protection. They monitor your cards and accounts activity and alert you of anything suspicious. Most of them also reimburse you if you become a victim of identity theft.

Conclusion

Identity theft prevention is relatively easy if you’ve read everything above. Most identity thefts happen to people who are unaware of the threat, and therefore don’t know how to protect their identity.

Children, older adults, and even deceased people have their identities stolen every year. You should try not only to secure only your identity, but theirs as well. It could be tricky, I know, but it pays off.

I hope TechJury has helped you on your quest for better digital security. Now that you know how to prevent identity theft, I hope you will pass this knowledge on, so we can make the Web a safer place.

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