Did you know that one in three Americans will have their identity stolen in their lifetime? Identity theft is a growing threat, costing victims an estimated $10.2 billion a year. The consequences of this type of crime are often hard to curb and can last for years. They may even extend to your loved ones, compromising their privacy and safety, too. Your best chance of remaining safe is to build awareness and take critical protective measures.
Why Is Identity Theft Common?
Several factors contribute to a surge in identity-related crimes.
● Proliferation of data
The internet age has led to massive volumes of data accumulating in cyberspace. Each time you post an update on Instagram, leave a comment on Quora, make a purchase on Amazon, stream a movie on Netflix, download an app to your smartphone, and sign up for a newsletter, you leave behind a distinct data trail. And the bigger your data footprint, the higher the risk of an identity breach.
● Technological advances
Rapid developments in technology have made data theft easier.
Today, cybercriminals have countless tools at their disposal to launch fraudulent schemes and dupe innocent victims. For example, social engineering technology allows them to imitate phone numbers, while sophisticated hacking techniques enable them to swiftly infiltrate security barriers.
Even regular businesses can track user data at an alarming scale thanks to simple tech resources. Cookies that monitor your web activities, browsers that save your search queries, and apps that access your contact lists and location data can all compromise your identifiable information.
● Cheaper costs of theft
Technology has also made data theft less expensive. As a result, sending out hundreds of phishing emails or making thousands of robocalls costs next to nothing. This allows scammers to target mass audiences, leveraging scale to improve their success rate.
● Lucrative gains
Stolen identities enable criminals to carry out a variety of scams in disguise. These fraudulent activities are typically driven by a single motive—money.
For instance, by stealing your identity-related information, fraudsters can purchase products using your credit card, file fraudulent tax returns under your tax ID, make fake medical insurance claims, or take out loans. These are just a few examples of the possible scams these malicious actors can carry out. In reality, criminals can target you for multiple swindles spread over years and even decades following a single breach.
● Regulatory challenges
Online crime is difficult to regulate. Of course, there are various laws and regulations to ensure consumer data protection. The European Union, for instance, has the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR. At the same time, the US has rolled out the Privacy Act of 1974, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and various other federal and state-level laws.
However, despite all these, many companies still engage in unethical data collection practices that compromise user privacy. A lack of knowledge of data security and rights on the side of consumers also works to the advantage of these organizations.
There are logistical challenges, too, when tackling cybercrime and enforcing legal frameworks. Criminals can sit anywhere in the world and target victims living halfway across the planet. These types of fraud are hard to crack down on, and the overlapping of jurisdictions can lag the process further.
Tackling Identity Theft
While regulators and law enforcement agencies do their part to curb the threats, establishing effective defense mechanisms of your own is critical for protecting your identity from criminals.
Understand the risks
You can encounter identity theft in a number of ways. Phishing is undoubtedly the most common technique deployed by scammers to access identifiable data. Hacking and malware are also common.
And what type of data is at risk? Anything that could give away your privacy and identity, including your name, address, social security number, bank and credit card details, and tax ID.
Repercussions of a data breach can include financial loss, tarnished credit scores, criminal implications, and resulting lawsuits and fines. Let’s also not forget the loss of privacy and emotional distress.
Take sufficient protective measures
Certain best practices can help strengthen data security and personal safety and minimize the risk of identity theft.
- Avoid disclosing personal information without questioning the purpose of its use and how your data would be stored and protected.
- Watch out for phishing threats. Be particularly mindful of unsolicited messages and unexpected emails and phone calls.
- Never return a call without looking up who has called. You can identify unfamiliar numbers using PhoneHistory.
- Read the data protection and sharing policies of websites each time you sign up for an online account.
- Practice responsible information sharing on social media and other digital platforms.
- Keep your accounts secure with password protection. Remember to use different login credentials for each account. They should consist of at least eight characters with random letters, numbers, and special symbols. Install a password manager to organize them effectively.
- Set up two-factor or multi-factor authentication for extra security.
- Protect devices with regular software updates, virus guards, and strong passwords. Make use of biometric password features whenever they are available.
- Review your bank and credit card statements, insurance claim reports, and credit reports frequently for unusual activities.
- Store hard-copy versions of personal documents in a safe location. Use a shredder to discard documents containing identifiable data.
Report identity theft
What should you do if you suspect a data breach?
- Immediately change passwords on your online accounts, files, and devices.
- Take copies of any theft-related activities. These can include emails you have received, call records, website screenshots, and bank statements.
- Inform the relevant organizations based on the type of data compromised. This may mean reaching out to your bank, credit card issuers, lenders, Internal Revenue Service, insurance provider, online retailers, and social media platforms.
- Make a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.
- File a report with your local police.
Identity theft is widespread, and several factors make it lucrative for criminals. The increasing proliferation of digital data, technological advances, cheaper costs, potential financial gains, and regulatory loopholes rank high among them.
Considering the alarming prevalence of identity-related threats, building awareness and taking protective measures is imperative for ensuring your privacy and data safety. And if you ever encounter an identity breach, take immediate action to secure your data, document the incident, and notify the relevant organizations to minimize the damage.