What is Identity Theft?
It’s a fact that in 2016, identity theft was the fastest-growing crime in America. Phew. That pushes murder and robbery down the list.
But identity theft is a form of robbery—a crime involving perpetrators that might be more difficult to track down and convict. It’s become easier to wipe up footprints and vanish into the cyber world than avoid leaving a trace of DNA in someone’s home. There’s no doubt that this lends to the increase in cybercrime and identity theft.
According to a 2017 Javelin Study, identity theft cost consumers more than $16 billion last year—up 4% from the previous year. That number is shocking and puts into perspective the reality of a crime that was once simply perceived as “true name” theft.
Before credit card fraud became prevalent, a person’s stolen identity was misused without modification—in its truest form. Decades later, identity theft has evolved into a much more sophisticated beast, manifesting into a force to be reckoned with.
So, what is identity theft?
Identity theft is when an imposter steals personally identifiable information (“PII”) to impersonate the victim.
What’s the imposter’s motive? Could be a number of things:
- He’s running from the law.
- She needs more credit to make big purchases.
- He needs extra cash, so he steals someone’s tax return info.
Or the imposter could just be a terrible person.
The professionals, however, treat identity theft like a career—monitoring prey on multiple sites, waiting for a slip-up by the user to advantageously swoop in and take what’s not theirs.
What happens after your identity is stolen?
There’s no limit to what criminals can do with your personal information. If the thief wants to make a quick buck (or couple hundred), he might sell stolen identities on black market websites to other thieves, who then use these identities or resell them. There’s an entire economy built around identity theft, which is proven by the $16 billion loss in 2016.
The other thieves—the “investors”—may not reap a profit from their wrongdoings right away. A perfect example is the checking account fraudster. He steals someone’s personal information to hack into her bank account. Every week, he withdraws a small amount, accumulating over time. Or the “new account opener.” He uses your name and good credit to open a new account or apply for a loan for himself. Because his intent is to get the highest credit allowance or loan amount, making monthly payments on these loans is not on his priority list.
Thus, your good name, credit history and finances are compromised. This could affect equity on your home. Worse—your home could be taken from you completely. Your family suffers, you have to dip into your investments, and your world is turned upside down. And what are you left to do? Deal with it on your own? Think of the hours it could take making phone calls to the credit bureaus and your banks—powerlessly trying to explain your case. Your identity was stolen.
Not to mention the financial burden—lawyers, time off work, fees. Without the right support system, you could be left on your own to deal with identity theft.
How can you avoid identity theft?
Not all identity theft can be prevented, but there are ways to help protect your identity.
- Always shred your mail—the stuff that has your name and address on it. Not just bank statements or credit card offers—catalogs, mailers and anything else that could leave you vulnerable.
- Encrypt your emails when possible (your employer should already have this enabled) when sending sensitive information, including your Social Security number (though, this shouldn’t be included in an email anyway), birthdate, passwords, etc.
- Be mindful when using social media—although it might feel glamorous to “check into” locations on Facebook, this gives your whereabouts away, revealing you may not be at home. Limiting the information you provide in your profiles is a best practice—omit your birth year, and try not to use your last name when possible. Living in the digital age, most of us have basically surrendered our identities by participating in social media, online dating and online shopping.
- Change your passwords often and use a different one for each account. Yes, this may be hard to keep track of, but thankfully, there are apps available to keep your passwords organized.
- Purchase a protection plan—they’re quite affordable, some including monitoring, detection and recovery if your identity is stolen.
From a business standpoint, it’s imperative that IT administrators tighten up system security by implementing desktop monitoring and other managed services. These precautions limit employees’ access to sensitive data, specific websites and other outlets employees may (intentionally or unintentionally) misuse.
With 1 in 4 Americans falling victim to identity theft, our chances are not favorable. So ask yourself:
“Do I have a Social Security number?” or “A date of birth?”
“Do I receive paper mail and throw the junk mail out with the trash before shredding it?”
“Does my LinkedIn show my current employer, city I live in, my last name..?”
Learn more about identity theft by downloading our white paper or watching our video on identity theft below.