Recently, identity theft has become the fastest growing crime in the increasingly digital world. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to take over your credit accounts, open new ones, access bank accounts, take out a loan, rent an apartment or commit other crimes using your identity. As it does not involve any physical theft, identity theft may not be noticed by the victim until significant damage has been done – potentially several months and thousands of dollars later.
Type Of Information Identity Thieves Look For
Social Security Number
This number is used by all government and financial institutions as the primary form of identity. So, it is the golden ticket for identity thieves.
Date Of Birth
This information is used in the creation of every new account and it is also the most common information used to verify existing accounts.
Asking for your full name as it appears on the card is one of the most common security checks for online credit purchases. Moreover, your full name is clearly essential when generating or opening new fraudulent accounts.
A thief can do a lot with your account numbers, so your actual account numbers are the primary target of identity thieves. The most commonly sought out accounts are savings, checking, credit and debit cards, and even investment and retirement accounts.
Your online usernames and passwords are very valuable because today everything is done online. If they get hold of your financial institutions log-in information, you are finished as a lot can be done with online banking.
Passport numbers yield full names, place and date of births, and nationality.
Driver’s License Number
This is similar to your passport number but more valuable, because it is more common and contains more information, such as your full name, date of birth, address, and basic personal appearance.
Your Personal Identification Numbers are mini-passwords to access your financial accounts. With your PIN thieves can withdraw cash directly, gain access to your online accounts, or swipe debit without producing additional i.d.
Mother’s Maiden Name
This is the default piece of information used to verify many accounts.
Place Of Birth
This information can be used to find public records, request birth certificates, and locate relatives.
In addition to phishing, identity thieves can use your address to initiate a change-of-address to reroute your mail.
Your e-mail address is a popular medium for phishing scams, because they are easier to automate and can be made to look authentic. Moreover, several online accounts allow you to use them as a username.
Identity thieves may steal your personal information by:
- Going through your mail or trash, looking for bank and credit card statements, tax information, and pre-approved credit offers.
- Finding personal information you share on Internet.
- Completing change-of-address forms to redirect your mail.
- Stealing personal information, such as identification, bank, or credit cards, from your wallet or purse.
- Acquiring personal information you share on unsecured sites on the Internet.
- Phishing a scam in which the identity thief sends an e-mail falsely claiming to be from a legitimate organization, bank or government agency to make you surrender personal information.
- Buying personal information about you from an inside source, like a store employee that gets your information from a credit application or by skimming your credit card information when you make a purchase.
- Obtaining your credit report through posing as your employer or landlord.
- Getting your personal records at work.
How To Protect Yourself From Identity Thefts
There are a few simple ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Destroy private records and statements: Tear up or shred regularly credit card statements, solicitations and other documents that contain private financial information.
- Do not over-share on social networking websites: Set your privacy settings at the highest level and do not share facts like exact date of birth, or any information that can be used to answer your security questions, such as your mother’s maiden name.
- Create strong passwords: It is very important to create a strong password because access to your account is just a username and password away. Incorporate spaces, special characters, and upper and lowercase letters.
- Secure your mail: Protect your mailbox by locking it, or emptying it quickly, or get a P.O. box, so that criminals do not get a chance to snatch credit card pitches. Never mail outgoing bill payments and checks from home as they can be stolen from your mailbox. Mail them from the post office or any other secure location.
- Maintain anti-virus and anti-malware software: In addition to using anti-virus and anti-malware software, keep the financial information on your PC limited. Decline saving your password every time you are logging on to a financial site.
- Safeguard your Social Security Number: Do not carry your Social Security card or any other card with your number on it. This card is the primary target for identity thieves because it gives them access to your bank accounts and credit report.
- Do not leave a paper trail: Never leave ATM, credit card or gas station receipts behind.
- Have an eye on your credit card: Always keep an eye on your credit card to avoid skimming. When you feel that it is not possible, pay with cash.
- Invest in a safe: Keep all your essential documents locked safely in a fire-proof safe. This will help protect your information in the event of physical break-in, and also from fire or any natural disaster.
- Do not reveal personal data: When someone contacts you asking for private identity or financial information, do not respond. Find out who they are and the reason for their call. If the request is legitimate, you contact the company yourself and confirm what you were told by their representative before revealing your personal data.
- Avoid unsecured Wi-Fi: Do not do any banking or any financial dealing in an unsecured Wi-Fi situation, because people using the same network can get access to your information. To protect yourself from identification thefts, put a password on your home Wi-Fi network and wait until you get home or to another secured network to make financial transactions.
- Monitor your credit report: Review your credit card statements online on a daily basis or at least once in a year and check for any suspicious activity. If you find something, alert your card company immediately.
Although there is no way to completely protect against identity theft, you can minimize your risk by increasing your level of awareness and being more vigilant with your personal information.