Top Five Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen
The Identity Theft Resource Center says that the frauds and scams dedicated to stealing your or family’s name, birth date, financial information, social media accounts and/or Social Security number for illicit personal gain are at the highest levels they’ve seen since the organization was founded in 1999.
The financial implications of these crimes are staggering with American consumers losing $5.8 billion to fraud in 2021, an increase of 70% over 2020.
Here are the top five ways a thief can compromise your personal information as well as some tips on how to prevent it.
Pilfer Your PostMost mailboxes don’t have locks on them. So, despite the fact it is a federal crime, anyone can open the lid and take mail from your bank, doctor, the IRS or organizations to which you belong. With that type of information, they can easily pretend to be you and access your accounts and personal information, thereby creating a new you who can spend your money and use your identity without you knowing it.
You can deter this crime by picking up your mail on a daily basis, reading anything from the USPS carefully (like this person), and having a locking mailbox from DeliverySafe. DeliverySafe’s mailboxes are specifically designed to prevent anyone other than you from picking up your mail.
Hacking Your MacYour address. Your dog’s name. Your kids’ birthdays. Your college mascot. If these are your ideas of strong passwords, then it’s time to think again. If cyber-criminals can break into the highly-secure systems of large corporations like Yahoo, Facebook, Marriott, LinkedIn and even Experian, whose job it is to monitor credit card usage and identity theft, think how easily they can crack your codes.
Making your passwords stronger and pairing them with multi-factor authentication is one move in deterring someone breaking into your computer. Other ways you can be proactive are by installing firewalls, avoiding random networks, frequently turning off your computer, installing anti-spyware and a virtual private network (VPN) and encrypting your files. Remember, your phone is basically a computer so installing a security app, turning off your Bluetooth and not logging on every WiFi you encounter will help secure it as well.
Royal RipoffOh, that pesky Nigerian prince who needs a few bucks and will reward your kindness with an astronomical return on your loan. Transparent phishing schemes like that one (which is still doing good business), aren’t the only ways an email can trick you into sending your personal or banking information to an ID thief. Emails from fake businesses, moving companies, dating profiles, banks, financial apps and medical offices are set up to steal your accounts or social security number. Beware: they may not ask for money to begin with, instead cultivating a relationship till you feel comfortable giving over your cash or information.
One of the best ways to avoid these scams is to make sure your spam filter is set to the strongest-level and not to answer any emails from an address you don’t recognize or can’t verify with a phone call to a number you’re sure is legitimate (not one listed in the scam emails).
Pilfering Your PlasticLosing your wallet used to just mean saying goodbye to the cash that was in it, calling to cancel your cards and the pain of going to the DMV to replace your driver’s license.
Now, it means someone can go online and use your information to create new accounts using your personal information. Often they don’t even need to take the cards. For instance, someone at a checkout counter can take a quick cellphone picture of your card while you’re paying so always be mindful of your surroundings when you’re paying with a credit card.
Also they can use a skimming device, which steals all your information from your card’s magnetic stripe when you swipe it through a card reader. Thieves usually illegally mount these on exterior ATMs or gas pumps that aren’t under constant surveillance so it’s best to avoid putting your card in any machine that looks odd or like someone has tampered with it.
Facebook FraudThink about how much time you spend looking at pictures or videos on your phone. Thieves know about our obsession with Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc., which is why social media account takeovers have increased by 1,044% since 2020 according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. The bad guys create fraudulent social media profiles, either by using an already stolen piece of information or by cloning your current account, and then use these accounts to solicit money, commit crimes, steal other identities and destroy your reputation and financial standing.
To avoid being cloned online, make sure your privacy settings are at the highest level, keep as much personal information (birth date, names of friends, mother’s maiden name) hidden. Every so often, you should check for duplicate accounts with your name and likeness, close your old accounts and avoid logging into new apps using information from other apps while not oversharing sensitive information.
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