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Identity theft is a serious crime and can result in severe financial and mental strain. Often, fraud isn’t detected until it is too late and significant damage has already been done to your credit.
Identity theft is when criminals impersonate someone using their personal information to apply for loans or credit cards, take over or open bank accounts, make purchases, file false tax returns, commit insurance fraud, and more.
With statistics showing that identity theft is on the rise, many people wonder how easy it is for their personal identity to be stolen.
Who Can Fall Victim to Identity Theft?
Anyone in any age group can fall victim to identity theft; however, there are different risk factors based on your age. Understanding these risks can help you better protect yourself and your loved ones.
Children can be convenient targets for someone looking to make purchases or open bank accounts using someone else’s name. This is because their clean banking and credit histories act as a blank slate for the thief. Furthermore, once a thief gets a hold of this information, they can open accounts, make purchases or run up charges without being quickly identified.
Teens and adults could be inadvertently inviting thieves by connecting with strangers on social media platforms or dating apps and oversharing personal information. Adults who often make transactions or pay bills online are easier targets than wealthier individuals, as they typically leave a longer data trail.
How Easy is it for Identity Theft to Happen?
In short, it is extremely easy. A thief can do a lot with a person’s basic personal information, such as their full name, birthday, address, and phone number.
Perhaps this information gets shared on a social media post that was accidentally made public, or someone was overheard mentioning their credit card number over the phone too loudly while in a public place. It is even possible for thieves to look over someone’s shoulder as they write or type their telephone number. It only takes a few seconds for a thief to gather all the information they need to commit identity theft.
With only a Social Security Number (SSN) and a birthdate, thieves can file a false tax return, create new Social Security cards, access financial investments, and steal even more information.
Other information that can result in identity theft when shared with the wrong person include:
- Car, house, medical, or life insurance numbers
- Credit or debit card numbers and bank account numbers
- Account-recovery answers, such as your mother’s maiden name
Have you ever used a public Wi-Fi network? Data when surfing public Wi-Fi is not usually encrypted, making it easy for someone to intercept and monitor the financial transactions, browsing activity, and account logins of all the Wi-Fi users. Likewise, unencrypted and insecure transaction websites (which don’t have an icon of a lock next to the URL at the top of the browser) are breeding grounds for identity theft.
Read More: How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
How Do Thieves Steal Your Identity?
Identity theft can happen in several other ways, both online and offline. A thief can hack into a computer through malware and viruses and steal passwords, banking information, or confidential files. Data breaches at companies like the one at Facebook, which exposed the personal information of 530 million users, compromise identity security.
By stealing mail or packages, thieves gain access to personal belongings and extremely sensitive information to steal an identity. If they rummage through your trash, thieves can find bank statements or receipts with personal information that were thrown away.
By posing as a trustworthy source, thieves contact you by phone or email to trick and convince you to willingly give up your personal information. This is called a phishing scam.
How You Can Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
Identity theft can be challenging to detect, but there are several methods you can use to protect yourself from fraud.
1. Through Due-Diligence
By setting up bank account alerts, regularly monitoring our accounts, and immediately investigating or reporting unusual activities related to identity theft.
Avoid oversharing personal information as much as possible, especially with people you do not know very well. This heavily applies to social media users. You can set your social media account to private, ensuring that strangers can’t view your personal information. You should also avoid disclosing your personal information over the phone or in a public place.
Keep track of your mail and incoming packages. Collect your mail as soon as it arrives at your place of residence, and do what you can to ensure that someone will be home when any packages are due to arrive. Place a hold on your mail when you know that you will be away for several days.
Shred files, receipts, old credit cards, tax slips, banking statements, and other documents with sensitive personal information on them instead of throwing them in the trash completely intact.
2. Using Online Safety Tools
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when surfing the web via a public Wi-Fi network. This keeps your identity confidential, encrypts your connection, and prevents prying eyes from watching you as you browse.
Request access to online bank statements instead of receiving physical copies in the mail. Try to do the same with tax paperwork. This reduces your chances of mail theft.
If you are concerned that a thief is considering how to steal someone’s identity, purchase and utilize antivirus software to protect your computer from hackers.
You should also enable Two-Factor Authentication on as many of your online accounts as you can, including email addresses and social networking sites. This prompts you to input a code texted to your cell phone upon a new sign-in.
Check out our review of the LifeLock Identity Theft Protection
3. Use Caution When Responding to Requests for Personal Information
The IRS is clear: they never initiate contact with taxpayers by email or text to request personal or financial information. They also never ask for a taxpayer’s Identity Protection PIN by phone, email, or text. Most other companies and government agencies have very protective policies about sharing personal inforlmation over the phone. If you are suspicious, contact the entity yourself to verify if they are trying to contact you or get personal information from you.
Check out our article on Identity Guard and Lifelock Comparison.
Protect Yourself Against Identity Fraud
While it is very easy to learn how to steal someone’s identity, it is not easy to protect your own. There is a lot to keep track of when it comes to ensuring that your identity remains private, and it can be overwhelming. On top of that, whether or not your identity gets stolen could even be totally out of your control, such as during a data leak.
Following these directions can guard you from the stress and hassle that comes with discovering that your identity has been stolen. By being cautious with your personal information and using technical safeguards like antivirus software or a VPN, you can rest easy knowing your bank account contents, tax information, and more is safely in your hands.
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