Identity theft is a billion-dollar industry and is rightly considered one of the biggest threats to your security and wellbeing, but if we are honest, how much do we really know about it and are you doing enough to prevent it from happening to you?
The answer to those two questions, if you are being honest, would probably be a resounding negative, but it’s time to take this threat very seriously indeed.
In 2018 over 16 million Americans were the victim of some form of identity theft, and this level of threat has steadily increased year upon year. Indeed, the cost of this breach of our personal security amassed almost $20 billion by 2018 and the signs are that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Clearly in 2021, and for the foreseeable future, our level of online activity is only growing and the use of our computers and mobile devices for key financial uses will only increase and as it does, so invariably do the ways in which criminals will seek to profit.
What is Identity Theft?
In simple terms, identity theft is the practice of an individual being the victim of some level of illegality resulting in the use of their identity to procure financial gain.
Typically this would entail an ID thief securing relevant banking details needed to raid your accounts and this can happen in a myriad of ways, most commonly being carried out virtually via access to key information online.
What’s the Worst That Can Happen?
It would be fair to say that far too many people either don’t view the threat of identity theft highly enough or feel that any such occurrence would be low-level and easily dealt with by either law enforcement or your banking provider.
Sadly, this isn’t a fair characterization of the potential pitfalls.
While in the past, and still today, ID theft can come from offline means (such as a criminal stealing your wallet or seeing you enter your pin codes at an ATM), a far more common occurrence is online.
Phishing occurs when cybercriminals send you what appear to be genuine communications and links to what appear to be ‘actual’ sites/banks but turn out to be sophisticated duplicates, they then mine your account information and before you can even report what appears to be dubious, your accounts have been cleaned out.
Hacking Your Internet or Wi-Fi Signal
Another common ‘trick’ used by cybercriminals is the act of hacking into your internet supply, accessing your browsing history and looking to secure relevant saved passwords or recording your keystrokes, all with the end goal of getting hold of the key information that will complete the ID theft.
Malware and Data Breaches
The use of malware; which is essentially software designed specifically with the intention of hacking your device, sometimes wrapped up in the ‘apparent’ guise of being a genuine form of virus protection, is growing and you need to do all your can to protect yourself from such an attack.
There are a raft of legitimate virus protection services, far more than we can appropriately cover in one article, but the upshot is this, you need to be running one of these permanently on any device you use to access important information. Failing to do so is basically issuing an open invite to hackers.
Another form of access that breeds ID theft are data breaches, i.e. the act of an entire company or services data by an illicit party, and this isn’t something that you can personally do much to prevent, other than perhaps keeping yourself aware of which banks and financial services offer the most protection.
Can I Stop It from Happening to Me?
Yes you can. There are many ways to keep yourself protected and a lot of these resolve around using common sense. Whether that means keeping your access to important information to just one device (and not in public) or avoiding communication with any parties that appear even slightly dubious.
When it comes to protecting yourself, start by protecting your computers and devices, making sure to use the relevant protection for the specific model/software. If you are looking for the right way to do so, try to compare between the id theft options that are covered by each service. Do the relevant research and always err on the side of caution when doing so as the threat, and repercussions of, identity theft are serious enough to warrant the need to go that extra mile to prevent such fraudulent activity..
Be Aware, Be Cautious, Be Smart
On the subject of being cautious. That should be a maxim you follow across the board. Think twice before clicking on any link sent to you, avoid accessing any service that you didn’t specifically search for yourself.
Don’t engage in communication relating to your personal details with anyone, especially when in relation to phone calls that were not solicited. Think of these details as akin to the nuclear codes. I.e. there is no need to mention them at all, to anyone, failure to adhere to such a mindset could well have explosive repercussions.