Identity theft has become all-too-frequent given the rise of ecommerce and online transactions. Think about how often you hear that one large organization has been hacked, resulting in the theft of customer information.
In 2020 alone, the amount lost to identity fraud totaled the sum of $56 billion, with over 49 million individuals being victims. Given how rampant identity theft is, it is important to know everything about how you can protect your identity.
To do that, you’ll need to understand what identity theft is all about and how identities can be stolen.
In this article, we’ll be taking a good look at what identity theft is and the ways through which it occurs. You’ll also get to learn the steps you can take if you find that your identity has been stolen.
Understanding Identity Theft
Identity theft happens when an individual steals the personal information (social security number, bank account number, credit card information, etc.) of another to commit different fraudulent activities.
These identity thieves use various means to steal such information. Some sift through trash bins while others rely on high-tech.
Once an identity thief can access your personal information, they can damage your credit card rating by making unauthorized transactions. Doing this will, in turn, make it difficult for you to enjoy the benefits that come with having a great credit card status.
Such benefits may include being able to access loans with low interest, having a longer period for loan repayment, or being able to pay a lower amount as an initial deposit for goods and services.
If the status of your credit card score is low, you can contact CreditBull to help resolve the problem.
Ways Through Which Identity Theft Can Occur
There are several ways through which identity thieves can access your personal data. Knowing them can help you better protect yourself and prevent identity theft.
Here are some of the ways identity theft can take place:
#1. Data Breach
A data breach occurs when a person illegally accesses the data of an organization. When this happens, the data stolen are usually the full names, credit card numbers, and social security numbers of customers. In 2018, the Identity Theft Resource Centre recorded about 1,244 data breaches which resulted in the exposure of over 446 million records.
Because the responsibility of securing customers’ data lies with the organization, it might be impossible for a single customer to prevent a data breach. However, there are actions that you can take to minimize the risk of being adversely affected by a data breach. We’ll discuss these actions later on in the article.
#2. Unsecured Websites
Some websites are specifically to steal the personal information of visitors. As such, it’s essential that you’re cautious of the websites you provide your sensitive personal details. Also, be sure to double-check that the site’s URL is accurate.
One of the ways to find out if a website is secure is to check if the URL begins with “HTTP” or “HTTPS.” HTTP is the acronym for HyperText Transfer Protocol, while HTTPS means HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure.
Websites use the HTTPS protocol for secure communications across computer networks. It’s a sign that any personal information you provide on the site is secure.
Depending on the type of browser you use, you may get a notification when you enter risky websites.
Malware is a generic name for malicious software. This includes viruses, ransomware, and spyware. When your phone or computer is infected with any of this software, it creates a means for identity thieves to obtain your personal information.
#4. Credit Card Theft
Credit card theft is one of the most common means identity thieves access personal information. Once a fraudster can get their hands on a person’s credit card, they can use it to make unauthorized purchases. This then leaves the owner of the stolen credit card the credit card company with the bill.
Apart from a person physically stealing your credit card, electronic card theft can occur when someone obtains your credit card number through a data breach, unsecured websites, e.t.c.
#5. Mail Theft
Mail theft has been a problem even before the internet. This occurs when identity thieves go through the mail of others to find any personal information they can use in committing fraudulent activities. Some of the data they look for include bank and credit statements.
On that note, it’s always advisable to shred any old mail that contains personal information. This is because any mail you throw out (unshredded) can put you at risk of exposing your personal details and getting your identity stolen.
Phishing is another technique that fraudsters use in stealing personal information. This technique involves sending emails that seem to be from a reputable company to get individuals to open an email, text message, or instant message.
The goal of this is to trick the victim into providing their personal data such as bank account details and passwords.
Note also that phishing can be done through calls. This is typically referred to as voice phishing.
#7. Public Wi-Fi
In many cases connecting to public Wi-Fi through your phone or computer can be quite dangerous. This is because identity thieves can use this opportunity to access personal information available on either your phone or computer.
#8. Phone Theft
Losing your phone to an identity thief can lead to your personal information being exposed, especially if the apps on your phone do not require a password or fingerprint to access. This allows them to gather personal information from your text messages, emails, and more.
#9. Card Skimming Device
Identity thieves make use of card skimming devices in getting the card information. They do this by carefully placing the skimming device over the card reader of an ATM or a fuel pump machine.
Once you place your card for the machine to read, the skimmer copies the information on the card and either stores or transfers it. The identity thief then uses this information to make unauthorized purchases.
Preventing Identity Theft
It is difficult to completely protect yourself against identity theft. However, having the right information and being vigilant can go a long way in helping you reduce the risk of having your sensitive personal data stolen.
Here are some of the preventive measures you can take to ensure that your personal information remains safe.
#1. Destroying Records or Statements
You should tear or shred documents such as card statements and solicitations that carry your financial information.
#2. Securing Your Mail
Make it a regular practice to empty your mailbox as soon as possible. You could also get a lock or a P.O box to prevent criminals from getting a hold of your credit card pitches.
In addition to that, you should ensure that you do not mail bill payments and checks from home as criminals can intercept the mail and erase the payee’s name. Preferably, send sensitive mail from a secure location.
#3. Keeping Your Social Security Number (SSN) Safe
Avoid carrying around cards that have your number, like your health insurance card. Also, you should not put your number on checks. Your number is a primary target for identity thieves as they can use it to gain access to your credit report and your bank accounts.
#4. Avoid Leaving a Paper Trail
Make it a practice to never leave your receipts behind after using the ATM or gas station. Believe it or not, fraudsters can use ATM and gas station receipts to scrap together usable information they can use to reconstruct entire account numbers.
#5. Protect your Credit Card
Always try to keep your credit card in a safe place and be cautious of the areas where you use your credit card to avoid credit card skimming. It is best you pay with cash or try another location if you are skeptical about using your credit card somewhere.
#6. Verify Information
Carry out all due diligence before providing your financial information to anyone who contacts you. If the person contacts you asking for sensitive information regarding your finances, do not give them an answer straight away but ask for the company they represent.
If you feel that the call is legitimate, you can personally contact the company to verify the information given before providing anybody with your personal information.
Nonetheless, most banks and legitimate financial or government organizations would not ask for sensitive information over the phone or via email.
#7. Remove your contact from marketing lists
You can remove your contact from marketing lists by cutting down on junk mails and credit card solicitations. This will help reduce the chance of revealing your personal information to identity thieves.
#8. Guard Your Personal Information
#9. Closely Monitor Credit Report
Regularly inspect your credit report for any suspicious activities. If you notice any unauthorized activity, contact your credit card company immediately to alert them. You can also get credit card protection that can alert you whenever a suspicious transaction takes place.
Signs of Identity Theft
While you might not be able to eliminate the chances of your personal information being stolen, you can watch out for signs that show that your personal information may have been compromised.
Here are some of the things to look out for:
- A sudden drop in your credit score.
- Unauthorized registration for tradelines.
- You might notice you are not receiving important mail for bills, checks e.t.c
- Receiving bills for items you don’t remember purchasing or statements for credit cards you are not aware of.
- You might notice that you are denied access to credit.
- Unapproved bank withdrawals and other types of transactions.
- Being notified that your information might have been compromised in a data breach.
- You may get a notification email explaining that someone else recently accessed your account.
- You may receive an authentication text to sign into an unknown account.
Steps to Take If Your Identity Has Been Stolen
If you are a victim of identity theft, there are some steps you can take to stop the identity thief from committing more crimes by using your personal information.
Immediately reach out to the banks and organizations where the fraudulent act took place.
Place a call immediately to one of the major Credit Reporting Agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion)
Request for a copy of your credit report from the credit reporting agency and then thoroughly go through it and follow the guidelines provided to remedy the situation.
Ensure that you place a security freeze on your credit report.
Gather information from debt collectors to determine the debt incurred.
Ask CRA to block any information resulting from identity theft, hence ensuring that they do not reflect on your credit report.
Contact a local law enforcement agency.
Contact the Internal Revenue Service to ensure that you are not a victim of tax-related fraud.
Immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the theft of your identity. This will help you to get a report that can serve as proof when informing financial institutions of your identity theft.
Contact your health insurance company to alert them of anyone that might be trying to impersonate you.
Contact your state’s licensing agency to eliminate the chances of impersonation.
Cancel all accounts that have been compromised.
You may have already gone on a path to bad credit. But not to worry, we’re here to help. CreditBull.com can help with all of your credit needs.
CreditBull Inc has over 20 years of experience in credit and financial matters. And we specialize in helping you come out of a bad credit situation. We know how important good credit is, and we can help make your life easier by helping you get better credit.