Ways Identity Theft Can Happen Without You Ever Knowing
by Writer Calvin Fellows
Topic: Identity Theft Prevention
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Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world. But, unless you’ve been affected by this traumatic offense, chances are you may not have considered the question of how does identity theft happen? Even if you’re a victim, many identity theft scams are so insidious that you may not know how or when it was happening to you.
Whether it's a data breach that leaked your personal details or a business you shared your information with that wasn’t trustworthy, you could be ignorant to its existence.
To reduce your risk of identity theft, it’s important you are aware of the invisible and silent signs of online fraud and learn how to protect your personal information.
1. Phishing Scams
Phishing is a method in which scammers try to gather your personal information without you realizing it. They use deceptive websites and emails that trick you into giving away your details, with some phishing scams not even requiring you to input any information.
The goal of phishing email attacks is to trick the recipient into believing the message inside is something they need or want. For example, emails could professionally replicate requests from your bank or a message from an employee of your bank asking you to download an attachment or click a link. These emails may look legitimate on the surface, with the phishing attackers often disguising themselves as a trusted figure or a company you would happily conduct business with.
The next time you receive an email claiming to be from your bank or an established company asking for your details, do not comply straight away. Instead, analyze the email and determine whether the source is trustworthy.
You can tell a phishing email from an authentic email with a few key indicators.
- A legitimate company will never ask for your personal information via email.
- The logo and other brand identifiers in a real email match those of the company website.
- An email from a real company will use a genuine domain name. For example, email@example.com may be legitimate, while firstname.lastname@example.org is not.
- The spelling and grammar in an authentic email is correct.
When visiting websites, you should also ensure they are genuine and not replicates of trusted companies. Many phishing scammers create cloned websites that produce pop-ups, with the cancel button often leading out into an external site that has the potential to then hack your computer and gain access to all the information you have stored. Reliable websites typically begin with https://, whereas less secure sites may have http://.
2. Public Wi-Fi
Free public Wi-Fi may seem convenient when you’re out, and you exceed your data usage. However, it can be a goldmine for hackers and identity thieves to access and steal personal information without you ever knowing.
One of the biggest dangers of using public Wi-Fi networks is that they can often be unsecured and unencrypted, leaving every user vulnerable to a cyber attack called man-in-the-middle (MITM). This specific attack is when hackers abuse a security flaw in the Wi-Fi network and intercept personal data.
This flaw then enables cybercriminals to access any information that passes between the websites you visit and your device. It gives them open access to your history, browsing activities, and even logins and purchase transactions. This then puts your sensitive information, including financial data and passwords, in the spotlight for identity theft.
Using free public Wi-Fi can also put you at risk of accidentally connecting to a fraudulent hotspot. These connections are usually disguised with names similar to legitimate public Wi-Fi’s that hackers have set up to attract people into connecting to the network. If you unknowingly connect to one of these rogue hotspots, the host of the network can then intercept your data and use hacking tools to implant malware into the devices connected, leaving your sensitive information exposed.
3. Dumpster Diving
If you are absent-mindedly disposing of your trash, including old mail that could have sensitive information written on it, you are unknowingly making yourself vulnerable to becoming a victim of identity theft.
Dumpster-diving identity thieves have no trouble when it comes to sifting through your trash if they know personal information can be found. It’s one of the most common ways of succumbing to identity theft without being aware of it, as the majority of people wouldn’t expect anyone would want to rummage through their discarded items.
With this in mind, before you hastily throw out old letters, receipts, and other items that may have your personal details written on them, it is imperative that you shred every last piece using a cross-cut shredder to ensure you leave no trace for identity thieves.
Dispose of everything separately and at different times after shredding the sensitive information. This makes it almost impossible for identity thieves to piece details, including card numbers together, even if they are shredded.
4. Mail Theft
Another easy way for thieves to access your information without you knowing is mail theft. If your mailbox is not secure, identity thieves can easily swipe your mail, giving them easy access to your sensitive information.
If your mailbox is unsecured and left unattended with bank and credit card statements, and even tax forms inside, thieves can easily grab them and gain access to your Social Security Number (SSN), one of the main pieces of information needed for a successful case of identity theft.
To avoid this easy mistake, you should ensure that your mailbox is 100% secure and not in disrepair. This way, no one can breach your security and access your private mail, significantly reducing your risk of identity theft.
If you are going away for a few days, contact the post office and have your mail stopped or arrange for a friend or neighbor to pick up your mail.
Find out more security information on our blog
Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
Understanding the answer to the question, how does identity theft happen? ensures you’ll be equipped to know the signs of fraud. Being aware of each process can help you protect yourself against identity theft’s emotions and financial consequences.
From being conscious of public Wi-Fi connections to being aware of how to avoid a phishing scam, you’ll be able to successfully navigate the invisible signs of identity theft and prevent it from happening to you.
About the Author
Calvin Fellows is a former military security agent and police detective who headed security administration. Calvin is experienced and knowledgeable in all avenues of personal and corporate security, and is dedicated to educating people on how to preempt any physical or cyber security attacks before they happen.
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