We live in a digital age where all sorts of personal information is stored on our cell phones, computers, and even in the chips of our credit cards. This has opened us up to the possibility of a security breach… and, in turn, identity theft.
Over the years, the frequency of identity theft and fraud complaints has continued to increase, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. It’s important to be informed as to what identity theft actually is and how you can protect yourself. That way, you can prevent this growing crime from happening to you.
Before we discuss ways to protect yourself from identity theft, let’s take a look at how it can happen in the first place.
How Your Identity Can Be Stolen
There are a number of ways your identity can be stolen. With the prevalence of the internet and technology, identity thieves are always coming up with new ways to gain your information.
Think of all the pieces of technology you own that are connected to the internet: your smartphone, your tablet, your computer, and your TV, just to name a few. Hackers can find ways to get into those devices and install malicious software that steals your information. For example, keystroke-logging software records what you type on your computer and can pick up any personal information you enter. This may mean giving a thief access to your credit card or Social Security numbers.
Hackers don’t only target individuals; they also target large organizations. The retail giant, Target, was hacked in 2013, exposing many of their customers’ names and credit card numbers.
Phishing is the act of sending fraudulent emails to people. The sender claims to be from a reputable company, often playing on fears in order to get the receiver’s personal information.
Two common phishing emails include a “bank” asking you to verify your account and an “email provider” claiming you need to change your password (often claiming that they believe your account has been compromised, and that this password update is a security measure). Email providers have picked up on this scam, thankfully. Gmail will display an alert above an email it believes may be phishing. They may not pick up on each instance, though, so it’s smart to check the sender’s actual email address, avoid clicking links in emails of which you are unsure, and never sending your personal information in a response.
Identity thieves target people by phone and text message, as well. The terms for those acts are “vishing” and “smishing” respectively.
Dumpster diving is a technique identity thieves use to retrieve personal information from people’s trash. They search through dumpsters and trash bins looking for mail and other documents that may have personal information they can use. Some common mail pieces that identity thieves may…