What Is Identity Theft & How To Protect Yourself

These days, we do everything on the Internet. And no, I don’t just mean sharing pictures and messaging friends. I mean, literally, everything. We apply for jobs, pay our bills, and even order food to be delivered to our homes. With our entire digital lives being online, it’s no wonder it’s become such a hotbed for identity theft.

I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories about a friend or coworker having their identity stolen. But, I bet you think you’re secure enough on the internet. Identity theft isn’t something that would happen to you, right? Well, there’s a really high likelihood that it could still happen to you. And, if it does, it will be a nightmare to try and fix.

Based on statistics from Identity Theft website, in 2022 FTC received 5.7 million fraud and identity theft reports in total, and 1.4 million of them were identity thefts. Moreover, there is at least one identity theft case worldwide every 22 seconds!

The good news is that you’ve found the right place. Before things have a chance to go sideways, this article will break down some of the common identity theft risks, as well as, show you a few ways you can protect yourself from identity theft. So, keep reading!

What is identity theft?

First, let’s talk about what Identity theft is. It’s when someone’s personal information is stolen and used without their permission. In many places, just the act of stealing someone’s identity is considered a punishable crime.

But why would someone want to steal an identity? Often, the identity is used to commit fraud or other crimes. For instance, someone could use your Social Security number to open a credit card account in your name or use your personal information to access your bank account.

protect yourself from id theft

Identity theft has the potential to be financially devastating. And with the right information, it could even ruin a person’s credit score and reputation.

How does identity theft happen?

Identity theft can happen online in a few different ways. It’s important to be careful about who you share your personal information with online. Ensure your computer and mobile devices have strong passwords and are up-to-date with the latest security software. 

Here are a few common ways for your identity to be stolen.

Phishing

One way is when someone creates a fake website or email to make it look like a real company’s website or email. Then, it asks you to enter your personal information, such as your name, address, and credit card number. The person who created the look-alike page can now access your information and commit identity theft. A detailed guide about how to protect yourself from phishing , you will find here.

Virus or malware

Another way identity theft happens online is when someone hacks into your computer or mobile device and steals your personal information that way. 

This typically happens through malware that gets downloaded by clicking on a link in an email or a text message from a spam account. This can also happen if you download a file from a suspicious website. That’s why it’s so crucial to only click on links from trusted sources you know.

Wi-Fi hacking

The great thing about public Wi-Fi is that it’s pretty much everywhere. That means if you need to hop online for any reason, you can go to the library, a coffee shop on the corner, or even your local pub probably offers it. The downside is that hackers know tens of hundreds of people are joining any public Wi-Fi network daily. So, hackers will target these public networks in the hopes that they’ll be able to steal other people’s information.

Like downloading a file, you should only connect to wireless networks you know and trust. But, if you need to use an unknown Wi-Fi connection, use a VPN to protect your connection. Here you will find a detailed guide on how to use public Wi-Fi safely with a VPN.

Data breaches

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this one. If a website or app that you use has its hack and loses your data, well, that’s on them. Keep that in mind when you’re creating a new password or saving information on a new website. It’s best to assume whatever you type in or save will one day be public knowledge. This mindset will protect you from any privacy leaks that might happen in the future.

What to do after identity theft occurs

If your identity has been stolen, there are a few essential steps you should take as soon as possible:

  1. Contact your bank and credit card companies to let them know what happened. They’ll be able to freeze your accounts and close new ones that might have been opened.
  2. Place a fraud alert on your credit report. This will alert creditors to be extra careful when verifying your identity before opening any new accounts in your name.
  3. Monitor your credit reports closely to ensure no additional accounts have been opened without your permission. 
  4. Report the identity theft to your local law enforcement agency. 
  5. Take steps to protect your personal information in the future. More on that is below.

How to protect yourself from identity theft?

While it is not possible to completely protect your identity from being stolen, there are steps you can take to reduce these identity theft risks. This will make it more difficult for someone to steal your personal information. 

Some of these steps include using strong and unique passwords for your online accounts, being cautious about who you share your personal information with, regularly monitoring your credit reports, and keeping your computer and mobile devices up-to-date with the latest security software. 

By taking these steps, you can help protect yourself from ID theft. However, it is important to remember that no matter how careful you are, there is always a risk that your identity may be stolen.

How to prevent identity theft

There are a few steps you can take to prevent identity theft online:

  1. Use unique passwords. Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts online. 
  2. Create a strong password. Ensure your passwords are at least 8-10 characters long and include a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. You can use a password management tool to help with this.
  3. Set up two-factor authentication for all your devices. Google Authenticator and Authy app are the most popular 2fa services to use.
  4. Be cautious about sharing your personal information online. Don’t give out your Social Security number, credit card number, or other sensitive information unless you are certain it is safe to do so.
  5. Regularly monitor your credit reports. Look for any suspicious activity or new accounts being opened. 
  6. Be careful about the links you click on. Avoid clicking on links in emails or text messages from unknown sources, and only visit websites you trust.
  7. Stay up to date. Software updates can be a pain and they never happen at a convenient time, but they’re there for a reason. Keep your computer and mobile devices up-to-date with the latest security software, including antivirus and firewall protection. 
  8. Use a VPN service. We recommend using the ClearVPN app for high connection speed and security. Download ClearVPN for free here and improve your online security.

Identity theft is a real threat and can lead to a huge headache. Some people online who have had the misfortune of this happening to them have stated that it can take multiple years for this to be completely ironed out. Even then, there’s still a cloud that hangs over them from time to time that they have to call out to creditors when applying for new loans or opening accounts.

Now, take steps to protect your online accounts and personal information. More importantly, be smart about who you trust. Taking an extra few seconds to verify that you’re on the right website can make a difference.

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