What is identity theft? and how to prevent it?

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft happens when someone gains access to your personal and financial information without your approval.

With Identity theft or identity fraud, scammers or fraudsters steal information such as your name, address, bank account numbers, credit card details, insurance number, or social security number. The purpose is to use the information for:

  • Buying things with the credit card online or instore
  • Getting a new credit card issued in your name
  • Stealing your tax refund
  • Using your health insurance for medical care
  • Pretending to be you when arrested for illicit acts
  • Subscribing for a phone or utilities account in your name

How Are Identities Stolen?

People become victims of identity theft through many types of exploits. Identity thefts can happen the old-fashioned way when fraudsters can steal your mail from the mailbox, dig through the trash for bills, ATM receipts, and bank statements. Also, steal wallets and bags, or make an extra copy of a credit card.

Online identity theft occurs when a victim is attacked by a phishing email or confidence scams. It happens when malware is installed on their devices to steal sensitive information; use unsafe wireless connections; withdraw money from an ATM that has been rigged with a skimming device to obtain user’s information; share passwords with strangers, or by obtaining victim’s information when data records are breached from an organization, government, or educational website.

How to Know if Your Identity Is Stolen?

Before taking steps to prevent identity theft, it’s important to know how to detect if someone has stolen your identity.

What can you do to detect identity theft?

The following are tips that can help spot identity theft:

  • Track your bills – Keep a track of your bills, what you owe, and when the payment is due. If you stop receiving your bills, it could be a sign that someone changed your address.
  • Review your bills – If you are charged for things you did not purchase, it’s a sign of identity fraud.
  • Check your bank statement – Check your statements regularly for any withdrawals that you did not make.
  • Get and review credit reports – Check for an account in your name that you do not recognize, as it could be a sign of identity theft.

Any person can become a target of identity theft; therefore, it is important to be vigilant and follow these 10 preventive steps to be safe.

  1. Fraud Alert on a Credit Report

Placing a fraud alert on your credit report can prevent thieves from opening an account in your name by warning other businesses to confirm their identification before proceeding with an application. A fraud alert allows you to have a free copy of your credit report that can be helpful in reviewing the report for any suspicious activities.  You can place a fraud alert by contacting the credit bureau, and it lasts for 90 days to 7 years as per the alert type.

  1. Freeze Your Credit Report

You can put a security freeze on the credit report that enables you to access information only by using an assigned PIN code. This a step beyond the fraud alert as it gives access to your credit report when needed but does not allow anyone to get new credit issued under your name without verification.

  1. Shred Personal Documents

Never throw your documents in the trash without shredding them. The documents may include:

  • ATM receipts
  • Bank statements
  • Credit card offers/letters
  • Medical insurance statements
  • Expired bankcards
  • Personal details
  1. Be Careful Where You Share Personal Details

Be aware of phishing scams that ask for your personal details, such as your bank account number, address, credit card number, or social security number.

Do not give away your personal information to anyone via text, phone, or email. Identity thieves pretend to work for government agencies, banks, or merchants to extract your information.

Be wary of websites where you need to include your personal details. Only shop from secure sites (websites with HTTPS:// in the URL), and never share personal information on unsecured sites.

Also, avoid sharing personal details on social media platforms like birthdays, emails, or addresses, as these sites are easily accessible for fraudsters.

  1. Keep a Check of Statements and Reports

Use an online banking system and regularly check the account for any suspicious charges. Also, regularly monitor the credit reports to investigate sudden changes in your credit score or the issuance of new cards under your name.

  1. Create Strong Passwords

Many websites ask to create strong passwords to prevent your account from being hacked. Your password should be a combination of capital letters, special characters, and numbers to add to the complexity. Avoid including personal details such as your mother’s maiden name, pet’s name, birthdays, etc. Also, to increase protection, keep changing your passwords every few months.

  1. Enable Security Features on Your Devices

Keep different passwords for different accounts, may seem time-consuming, but to fully protect your identity, the effort is minimal. Mobile devices are at a greater risk of theft. Therefore, it’s vital to protect them with security features as they may have passwords or banking applications stored in them.

  1. Safeguard Your Network

Public Wi-Fi networks are not always safe and make devices susceptible to hackers. To prevent this, use a virtual private network (VPN) when logging on to public Wi-Fi.

Also, using firewalls and anti-virus software also protects your network and data from getting infected by data thieves.

  1. Use Two-Factor Authentications

The two-factor authentication feature makes the websites and applications more secure by requiring various steps to complete the sign-in. For instance, instead of simply entering a password in the online bank application, the bank may send a unique one-time authorization code to your registered mobile device, the code then gives access to the account.

  1. Be Wary Of Lurkers

Even after implementing all the protective measures, someone who watches your activities in plain sight can gain access to information they need to steal your identity. You need to take extra measures while:

  • Entering your PIN at an ATM
  • Browsing the internet at work
  • Using a computer at a hotel or library

Take a good look around when you conduct personal business, hide or cover the pin pad at an ATM or credit machine in public to prevent theft.

Conclusion

With the increasing use of technology and devices, the threat of identity theft or identity fraud continues to rise, and new types of scams are emerging. It’s important to take timely preventive measures to keep your information and personal details secure. We hope this article was useful in understanding identity theft, if you have further questions then please write to us.

Further Readings: 

Note: 

We have a team of professionals who investigate the fraud cases thoroughly and provides detailed analysis with documents necessary to report a scam or fraud to higher authorities. We aim to evaluate each case with full attention and resolve them in a manner that the victim gets closure as soon as possible. 

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