What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft has become a fact of life. It does not matter if you are dead or alive, it can attack anyone and everyone. But, before digging deep into its repercussions and probable prevention, let’s take a quick look on what identity theft actually is?
Also known as identity fraud, identity theft is a crime in which the imposter steals your personal information to impersonate someone else. Once, they get hold of your data, they conduct severe damage to the information risking your financial security.
Ten years from today, stalking money only meant following credit cards, debit cards and Social Security numbers. Identity thieves would steal these information to make unauthorized purchases and create new identities.
Today, times have changed. Every small bit of our information is being compromised each day. From our email address to passwords, mother’s maiden name to even our pet’s name is used to hack into our account.
The average identity thief normally do not use the stolen information for personal use. Instead they pack those information up in bundles and sell it on the online black market. There are thousands of Internet relay chat rooms that buy, sell, trade and barter such deals every day.
Common Types of Identity Theft
Fraudsters have numerous unimaginable ways to exploit every piece of your personally identifiable information (PII). Before planning out how to prevent identity theft, you should be aware of the types that are existent out there.
The most commons ones according to identity theft statistics are:
Your social security number (SSN) happens to be the most valuable government-based piece of personal information that can get stolen. Perpetrators sell it to undocumented workers or to access services that only social security holders can benefit from or to file tax returns in their name. If it is done, the IRS may hand you bill for those unpaid taxes where compensation was paid to someone else.
This is the most common type that requires identity protection It happens when your credit card and bank account information is stolen. Most of the time, hackers will max out your card or exploit your account information to access new cards. This can be extremely damaging to your credit score and might also deprive you of getting loans in the future.
Child Identity Theft has emerged as a serious concern today. Scammers prey on children’s Social Security numbers to commit crimes such as opening new accounts, applying for loans or benefitting from government perks. They normally steal such information from school databases or from places where their private data such as birth dates and addresses are shared.
Criminal Identity Theft
This happens when the imposter commits crime under your name. They use fraudulent ID with your name and other personal information. If you wish to find out if this has happened, simply get caught while speeding. Thank you stars if the officer does not hand out an arrest warrant in your name.
The best identity theft protection will be to secure your personal information with safe online practices and being extra cautious while using public ATMs.
If your medical identification number has been compromised to access medical products and services, you have fallen victim to medical identity theft. Apart from financial losses, the incorrect information present on your medical history may lead to severe consequences affecting your health and wellness adversely. Hence, make sure to report loss of your medical ID card that very moment it has been stolen.
Tips on how to report identity theft
Reporting identity theft can get quite overwhelming. The procedure you should follow as a victim is to file a report with the FTC first and then to get a police report done. The order can be reversed keeping in mind that both should be obtained about the same time. Whichever you do first, you will be required to refer the first with the second.
While filing a report to the police, be it directly or online provide every minute information such as the date of fraudulent purchases, if there were accounts opened in your name, where else have your information been used and the likes.
Keep the original for yourself and provide a copy of the police report and your FTC complaint to the company that you get into trouble with. This will be the same company where the imposter have used your name.
Most of the times, the entire process turns into an ordeal where being aware of your rights is the only way to turn the tables right.
If the company have refused to produce any information about disputed transactions without a court order, do not get disheartened. Instead, mail a copy of the letter provided by the FTC to their legal department.
Most states have their own set of cyber security laws to address identity theft victims. We would suggest you to contact your local attorney general’s office to get familiar with the laws of your state.
Protecting yourself against Identity Theft
These days, it has become almost impossible to shield our private information without the risk of a probable breakdown. Fortunately, with the emergence of identity theft prevention awareness you can minimize the risk of exposing sensitive data and play safe.
Here are 10 easy ways to prevent your data from getting stolen.
- Use strong passwords. Passwords should never be words churned out from the dictionary. Rather, use random combinations of special characters, lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and spaces. No two passwords for two different account should be the same. Also, keep them updating frequently.
- Never share personal information over social media. People upload personal information on networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn which become hotbeds for imposters. Set your privacy settings to the highest level of protection.
Also, try to avoid sharing exact birth dates and correct answers to security questions such as your mother’s maiden name or the name of your high school.
- Monitor credit reports. Your credit report is a powerful tool that offers a valuable check-and-balance of your account at your service. It is a confirmation report of all the activities happening through your card. Check if they are ones that you have authorized. You may request the credit reporting bureaus to provide you a report every four months only to stay on the safe side.
- Secure your phone as you would your home computer. Hackers love it when you are too busy to be careful. The first line of defense is to lock your device with a complex password. Next, turn off Bluetooth whenever you are not using it.
Install security software with antivirus. Be cautious about downloading free versions of popular apps. And in case you have lost your phone, call your carrier and have your data wiped as soon as possible.
- Phishing is a scam used by cyber thieves. Watch out for emails that ask personal information such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. Phishers typically use immediate call-for-action emails to get people to respond to.
Never click on any link that redirects you to your bank, instead type in the URL yourself. Another phishing protection tip is to use secure website while making online transactions, “https:// rather than http://.”
- Criminals require very little information to steal your identity. Shred private financial documents for credit protection instead of dumping them in the trash.
Such documents include bank information, canceled or blank checks, credit card information, employee evaluations, financial statements, income tax records, insurance coverage, legal papers, medical records, personal bills, investment information and budgets. Dispose them using cross-cut shredders.
- You may not want to conduct online transactions or monitor financial accounts while using a wi-fi hotspot in public. Hackers can create your virtual presence by browsing your cookies and history. They intercept your data in the middle and send information to the server. The server responds believing it’s you. We recommend you wait for secured network to make financial transactions.
- Hiding your IP address is considered as one of the most effective way for identity theft protection according to analysts. Malicious websites and software can easily track your activities online. They collect data in form of cookies and let them out in the open among unscrupulous sites. Hence, remove your digital footprint by hiding your IP address.
- Everyone loves those online games, quizzes and memes. We get curious to know who our celebrity lookalike is or what could be our rock star name. Playing those games are a lot of fun.
However, do not get too involved and give away your personal information like your mother’s maiden name if they ask for. These questions are an attempt to breach through your online accounts. And never ever ever ever post those details on social media.
- Complete eradication of identity theft prevention will always be a myth. If you suspect that your online identity has been compromised, report about it to the local police. Contact the company or financial institution and get fraudulent information removed from your credit report immediately.
Facts about Identity Theft you need to know
No one is immune to identity theft. A theft of identity happens once in every two seconds. It is a risk you are exposed to every day. They can take a number of forms. And by simply carrying your driver’s license or by buying lunch with a debit card or by purchasing something online could bare you out to this heinous crime. The damage can be life-changing.
A little common sense and knowledge about how identity thieves operate can be a boon. Here are 10 identity fraud protection facts you need to know.
Identity thieves are creative and crafty. Of course, they do not need your credit card number in order to max out your limit. All they need is as little as just one piece of information about you. It can be data from your birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports or credit cards. Avoid carelessness to avoid getting mugged.
Identity theft is a risky crime. Hence, hackers are always one step ahead. They are technologically savvy and will already have moved to new ones while the police will be stuck with old techniques. According to stats, fewer than one in 700 identity crimes have been reported of an arrest. Owing to how they get away, these thieves are certainly creative.
Tax identity theft is another big money crime that also happens to be one of the most common techniques. According to reports, the IRS stopped a whopping 19 million suspicious tax returns last year. Several billions tax refunds are paid out to fraudsters every year and the figure is only increasing. The smartest way to avoid falling victim to tax-related fraud is to file your taxes early.
New Account Fraud is the latest technique being used by thieves. Nearly half of all the total dollars lost to identity theft happens because of this growing trend. Hackers steal financial information to open new accounts under someone else’s name. Those with high credit scores normally fall prey. The cards are sent to a new address so that the victim gets no idea till the time they receive overdue payment receipts.
Fraudsters are always on the lookout for stolen check as they can easily alter them. Never keep any outgoing mail in the open for carriers to pick up. Anyone can get hold of your credit card number and other confidential information. Also, follow your billing cycles closely. If your bill hasn’t arrived yet, it may mean they have already gotten hold of your account.
Smartphones contain vulnerable information. And when you use public wifi hotspots to make transactions, it takes no time for hackers to gain access to your personal information. Keep your phone password protected at all times. Come up with a detailed mobile security plan of attack in case if it is ever stolen. Download identity theft protection apps for master security.
Your social media profiles can also get you into trouble. It provides many opportunities for thieves to perpetrate fraud online. Your name, date of birth, address, relationship status, school locations, graduation dates, pet names, interests and hobbies etc. can be used to steal your identity. Phishing attempts using such information is also quite common. Be aware.
Children’s identities can be stolen even before they turn eligible to open their first bank account or apply for credit cards. What hackers do is they steal their Social Security numbers and use them to create new lines of credit in their names, or apply for loans, rent an apartment, get a job or even medical treatment. Kids between age group 6 and 11 years are the most vulnerable victims in this case.
Getting to the core of an identity theft and resolving it can take a couple of weeks or up to several years. Last year alone, over 100 million hours were invested to solve identity fraud. If you have fallen victim, the prospect can be overwhelming. Compromised social security numbers will cost you a lot more money and time to get everything back into pre-theft order.
You can follow every possible identity fraud protection procedure out there and still fall victim to the crime. Your business, doctor’s office or online platform where you might have made a transaction may be breached. Be alert.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What should you do immediately after you have fallen victim to identity theft?
Answer: The moment you become aware or even suspect that you have been victim of identity theft, here are a few immediate steps that you should take care of.
- Close your bank account or the existing credit line if they have been affected.
- In case of stolen ATM or debit cards, report to the bank and have them blocked before you are ripped off fraudulent transactions.
- If any purchase or withdrawal has already been made from your account, you shall need to report about the unauthorized charges or transfers within two business days. You shall be liable for a $50 limit which is extended to $500 for up to 60 days after a statement reflecting the fraud is released officially. You will be charged of unlimited liability after 60 days.
- Go for credit freeze. It is a process where credit reporting agencies freeze your credit information and bars its release to new creditors. You need to pay some $10 to place a freeze at each bureau but if you can prove that you have been a victim of identity theft, the price is waivered.
- Report about the crime to the local police and get a copy. If you cannot get one, get your FTC complaint form signed and make the police report number available in the “Law Enforcement Report” section.
- Notify all your creditors that you have been a victim of identity theft in written and add a copy of the theft report.
- What should you do in case of stolen Social Security card?
Answer: If your Social security card is stolen, here are a few things you can do to protect yourself.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus viz. Experian, TransUnion or Equifax and place a fraud alert on your card. The bureau you have reported to will notify the other two bureaus as well. Renew the fraud alert in every 90 days until the loss has been resolved.
- Next, contact your Social Security Administration and get a new Social Security card or a replacement number.
- Report about the theft to the IRS to prevent fraudsters from submitting a tax return in your name.
- Report about the loss to the FTC and the local police. You may also want to file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- How can I prove identity theft to the IRS?
Answer: If you have received a notice from the IRS stating that you owe money or that more than one tax return was filed in your name, first of all do not panic. Immediately, call the IRS to the number listed on the notice. You will be asked to fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit Form.
Contact your local police department and file a report. Bring along your photographic ID (driver’s license, state ID card), address proof (utility bill, rent agreement), notice received from the IRS, copy of the FTC report to the police station. Produce this report when you are trying to prove about identity theft to the IRS.
- What are the easiest ways used by ID thieves?
Answer: Some of the most common ways used by identity thieves to breach into your personal data are:
- They can tamper with your mailbox and get hold of your new credit card or steal your statements directly from the box.
- Phishing is one of the most common means used by identity thieves. They use urgent and appealing call-for-action text where they lure you to share your credit card number or Social Security pin.
- SMS phishing is where you will be sent a text message asking you to click on a link that will redirect you to a page asking for your personal information or trigger automatic download of a malicious software.
- Some attacks you through viruses. There are so many malicious programs out there that can record every keystroke as you type. This way your online banking username and password become vulnerable to a rip off.
- Hackers also setup fake wi-fi connection in public places with names like that of a restaurant that will let you believe as though it has been provided by a trustworthy owner. They take advantage of this exact situation and eavesdrop on information you are sending via. the network.
- Many people authorize their phone to make payments automatically by saving their banking passwords and other personal data in their phone. Imagine the repercussions that will follow if the device is stolen!
- How long will it take to get my stolen identity back?
Answer: This is a very tricky question with no rigid answer. Recovery from identity theft is difficult to anticipate as it depends on a wide range of variables like:
- when did you become aware that your identity has been stolen,
- what did your credit report and creditworthiness look like before the theft,
- how did it happen? was your wallet lost or you were victim of a malicious attack or and other reason for that matter,
- how long did it take for the authorities to trace down the thief,
- what has been the intensity of the damage done, etc.
- How do I find out if my identity has been stolen?
Answer: The sooner you find out, the better. Most people find out they have been robbed off their identity only when they are contacted by their bank. Here are a few signs:
- There are unexplained withdrawals from your bank account
- You haven’t received your bills and other financial docs on time
- You are denied of checks from merchants you work for
- You have been receiving notification for debts that you haven’t even applied for
- There are suspicious charges on your credit report
- You have been billed for medical services you did not use
- You have been notified by the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name
- You have received a new credit card or store charge card that you do not remember applying for
- Am I liable for the unauthorized credit card charges?
Answer: Federal laws and bank policies has several credit card fraud protection guidelines to aid victims in such situations. They limit your liability for unauthorized charges. However, it is important that you notify the bank as soon as you discover about the theft.
If the imposter uses the card physically to make the purchase, the issuer will not hold you liable for more than $50 in fraudulent charges. Some even waiver this amount. But, if the purchase have been made over the phone or online, you will have no liability.
- Can I get my stolen money back?
Answer: Banks have enough laws against identity thieves to safeguard your finances from being compromised. They even replace stolen funds provided you have notified them on time.
For example, if you have lost your debit card and notified your bank about it within two business days, you will not be liable for more than the amount of any unauthorized transactions or $50, whichever is less. However, if you have delayed to make the report by more than two days, you could be responsible for as much as $500 in unauthorized transactions.
Also, in cases where your bank have sent you statements mentioning unauthorized debit made from your account, notify them within 60 days. If you wait longer, you may be hold responsible for such transactions.
- How can I secure myself online?
Answer: Privacy has become a rare commodity today. As website breaches become ever more frequent, there are more reasons than ever to understand why we should protect our personal information online and how to do it. Here are a few practices we can follow to incur minimum damage.
- Never fill the areas in your social media profile that asks for personal information. Not everyone needs to know your real birth date, email address or phone number.
- Do not share your social security number (not even the last 4 digits) with anyone other than with your bank, credit bureau or if it needs to be reported with the IRS.
- Always enable private browsing if you do not want to be traced online. Going incognito deletes cookies, browsing history and any other temporary Internet files built after you close the window.
- Use strong and unique passwords and never use the same password for more than one website. It will be difficult to remember a different one for the many online services you use. There are many password manager applications available that help you organize your passwords.
- Going old school and handing out cash still reigns as the most secure mode of payment. Because, even if it is stolen, though cannot be replaced, it won’t expose you to the risk of identity theft.
- Your system is never completely secure. Copy important files and tax returns onto a removable disc or a back-up drive and keep it safe. This way, even if your system is hacked, they won’t be able to gain access to your files.
- How to avoid online shopping scams?
Answer: While online shopping offers the opportunity to dodge the holiday rush at the mall, it comes with its own threat of identity theft. Many scammers pretend to be legitimate sellers by putting up fake websites that look like genuine online retail stores. Never get lured by those.
Here are a few tips that will help you avoid online shopping scams.
- Your password should be too hard to guess and unbelievably unpredictable.
- Use secure search engines to stay away from cyber criminals. Browse through the website review before trusting them with your credit card info.
- Do not use your credentials in unsecured Wi-Fi. Anyone with elementary knowledge of computers can simply install plug-ins and easily spy on your browsing history.
- Make online payments only for those items that uses a secure payment service. The URL should start with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol.
- For online auction websites, conduct a background check about the seller, read all the comments from other buyers. Also, never fall for traps that offers you better deal for trades outside the auction website.
- Never pay via money order, wire transfer, pre-loaded money card or electronic currency. You will never be able to recover your money.
- When it comes to using online classifieds website, deal with monetary transactions only after you have physically inspected or received the goods. Because an identity theft may have been in order.