There’s a lot of information floating around about us online. For example, people can search your name online and find things like any potential bankruptcies, civil or marriage records, lawsuits, lines, and more.
While there are a lot of benefits to being able to find information about people online, there’s also information that floats around about you on the so-called dark web. This is where hackers and cybercriminals sell personal information they steal so that it can be used for a range of nefarious purposes.
So how exactly does your identity get stolen?
Most Common Ways Identity Theft Happens
As with other types of crime, fraudsters have endless methods they use to steal people’s identities and get access to their personal information, but the following are some of the more common tactics.
- Trash: This is a low-tech method that criminals might use. They can go through your trash and get enough information from things like your financial statements and old bills and then they can use that information to open up new accounts in your name or, in some cases, assume your entire identity.
- Phishing: Despite the fact that phishing is not a new strategy, it remains one of the most effective for cybercriminals. When you get those emails asking you to provide personal financial or login information, it can be an example of phishing. The general goal of phishing is to try and get consumers to open and potentially respond to emails that they then use to capture your personal information.
- Skimming: When you’re at a card processing machine or ATM, you have to be careful because thieves can put a device on these machines that will capture account information when it’s used. Gas station pumps are one of the prime targets for skimming.
- Actual theft: Criminals can steal wallets and bags to get access to your cards and personal information.
- Impersonation scams: In this situation, a criminal will work on deceiving their victim. The victim thinks they have a relationship with the fraudster they can trust—for example, a romantic relationship. Then they might convince the victim to provide information or money to them. Bad actors can also steal information by impersonating someone from the IRS.
A lot of cybercriminals will do what was mentioned above and go to the dark web, where they can buy information. If you’re using unsecured Wi-Fi in a public place, criminals can get your public information, they can steal information via a data breach as well.
How to Protect Yourself
Some of the most important things to do to protect yourself include:
- Shred all of your documents with identifying information or financial information on them.
- Lock your mailbox, especially if you’re going out of town.
- Make sure before you enter any personal or financial information online that it’s a secure website. You shouldn’t send any information that’s financial in nature through email or through a website that doesn’t include “HTTPS.”
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for information, whether it’s in person or online. If someone contacts you and they’re saying they’re from a financial institution, government entity, or something similar, call the company or entity yourself, making sure that you look the actual number up online.
- Check your credit report at least every few months if possible. Everyone is legally entitled to a free credit report every 12 months.
- Freeze your credit report. This will mean that no one without an existing relationship with you will be able to access it without your permission, and this includes financial institutions.
- Use credit monitoring, which will give you real-time alerts if there are any changes to your credit report or inquiries.
- Regularly review all of your accounts. Look for charges on your statements you didn’t make. The earlier you can find an issue, the easier it is to remedy the problem.
If you have a reason to think your identity has been stolen, you should contact the Federal Trade Commission. You should also speak to your bank and card companies, and if you think your Social Security Number is compromised, speak to the IRS.
When you think your identity has been potentially stolen, it’s important that you go over every financial account that you have and your personal information. You may need to provide this information to investigators.
It’s likely that identity theft will continue to increase in terms of how common it is, and these threats will probably become more sophisticated as well, so be mindful and make sure you’re regularly monitoring everything related to your finances and credit.