Hey there, savvy readers! Today, we’re diving into the dark and ever-relevant world of identity theft, a more pertinent topic than ever in our hyper-connected digital age. So, go ahead and grab yourself a cup of coffee, settle into your favorite spot, and join us as we demystify identity theft and help you protect your personal and financial information.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft, in a nutshell, is when someone gets their sneaky mitts on your personal or financial information without your permission. We’re talking about your name and address, your credit card, bank account, Social Security and medical account numbers, and even your social media accounts.
And guess what? These criminals can use your info for all sorts of mischief:
- Credit Card Crime: They might go on a shopping spree courtesy of your credit cards. In fact, credit card theft accounts for a whopping 30% of identity theft cases.
- Credit Card Creation: Yes, they can apply for brand-new credit cards under your name.
- Utility Fraud: Someone might open phone, electricity, or gas accounts in your name, sticking you with the bill.
- Tax Fraud: Stealing your tax refund? Yep, that’s on their list too.
- Fake Accounts: Criminals can open fake phone or subscription accounts under your name.
- Medical Mayhem: Need medical care? They might use your health insurance, and you’ll get the bills.
- Illegal Impersonation: If they feel ambitious, they might even pretend to be you if arrested.
Identity Theft: A Growing Epidemic
Now, let’s talk numbers.
Unfortunately, about 1 in 15 people will become victims of identity fraud at some point.
In the first half of 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported nearly 560,000 cases of identity theft across the U.S., and it’s projected to exceed a whopping one million complaints by year’s end. That’s higher than anything we’ve seen before, even pre-pandemic.
The IRS has its hands full, too. By March 2023, the IRS had already flagged over a million tax returns potentially filed by identity thieves.
So, what can you do to prevent identity theft from happening to you? The best way is to arm yourself with a little knowledge.
16 Common Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen
In today’s digital age, safeguarding your personal information has become more critical than ever. Identity theft can sneak up on you in a multitude of ways:
1. Phishing: Email
Phishing emails are like the chameleons of cybercrime. They pretend to be trustworthy, often masquerading as your bank or a popular online store. Once they lure you in, they’ll ask for personal or financial info.
2. Smishing: Text
Meet smishing – the SMS version of phishing. Scammers send sneaky texts pretending to be your friends or a trusted organization. Don’t be fooled; these messages can lead you down a treacherous path.
3. Vishing: Voice
If you’ve ever been tempted by promises of prizes or threats of losing out on a tax refund via phone calls, you’ve encountered vishing. Criminals use voice phishing to trick you into revealing personal info. Beware of spoofed caller IDs and spam callers.
4. Fake Lookalike Websites
Clever crooks create fake websites that mirror trusted ones. From logos to URLs, they’ve got it all covered. You might unwittingly give away your data or download malware.
5. Impersonation Scams
Criminals often play the long game. They pretend to be family, friends, or a romantic interest to gain your trust. Be cautious, especially with personal or financial requests from familiar voices – they might not be who they claim to be.
6. Data Breaches
Data breaches happen when information gets stolen intentionally or accidentally. Cyberattacks or improper document disposal can lead to your sensitive data being exposed. Watch for breach notifications; your info might be floating out there.
7. Skimming: Silent Card Theft
Skimming is a crafty way thieves steal card info as you swipe it. They tamper with card readers, attach recording devices to ATMs, or employ shady salespeople. Always be cautious when using card readers in unfamiliar places.
8. Public Wi-Fi and USB Charging Stations
Public Wi-Fi networks can be a haven for hackers, allowing them to intercept your private data. USB charging stations might also be hiding malware. Stay vigilant when connecting to these public services.
Also, don’t use public Wi-Fi for shopping, banking, or other sensitive transactions. If you connect to public Wi-Fi, use a virtual private network service to create a secure connection.
9. Dark Web Purchases
The dark web is where cybercriminals buy and sell stolen personal information, from medical records to financial data. Even your child’s info could be for sale. It’s a frightening marketplace.
10. Data Breaches
Hackers invade databases holding sensitive information, such as in the Equifax credit bureau hack in 2017. Almost everyone has been affected by a data breach. Assume that your data is already out there and take precautions accordingly.
Check your credit scores often — unexpected changes can be a clue — and read financial and insurance statements carefully. Monitor your credit reports, especially for new accounts or inquiries resulting from credit applications.
11. Mail Theft
Not all identity theft happens online. Thieves might sift through your mail, trash, or steal your wallet. Keep your physical documents secure and shred sensitive information before disposal.
To combat mail theft, you can sign up for USPS Informed Delivery. You’ll get an email with images of the items that should be delivered to you, so you’ll know if things are missing. You can also use a secure mailbox and retrieve your mail promptly.
12. Lost Wallet or Purse
When your wallet is lost or stolen, someone else may gain access to all the information in it.
Don’t carry your Social Security card or more credit cards than you need, and don’t keep a list of passwords and access codes in your wallet.
You can also make photocopies of your credit cards, front and back, and keep them secure so that you can easily call the issuer if a card or your wallet is lost. Some issuers allow you to temporarily “turn off” a lost card; with others, you have to cancel and get a new card issued.
13. SIM Card Swap
This is when someone takes over your phone number. You may stop getting calls and texts, or you may get a notice that your phone has been activated.
To help prevent this, you can set up a PIN or password on your cellular account, as well as use an authentication app for accounts with sensitive financial information.
14. Phone Scams
You may be told you have won something or are in danger of arrest. The caller claims to need personal, banking or credit information to verify your identity or where to send you money.
Never give personal information out over the phone!
Be aware of common phone scams. The IRS, for example, doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by phone (or email or social media) to request personal or financial information, nor does it call with threats of arrest or lawsuits.
15. Looking Over Your Shoulder
Fraudsters can learn a password by watching your fingers as you key it in. The information on your credit card can be photographed with a smartphone while you shop online in a public place. A business might leave sensitive information where people can see it.
To help prevent this type of identity theft, you can:
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Don’t leave credit or bank cards where they can be seen.
- Cover your hand when you key in passwords or codes.
16. Theft by Family or Friends
Sometimes, identity theft hits close to home. Family members or friends may misuse your information for their own gain. Surprisingly, over half of new account fraud victims report knowing the person behind the theft.
Cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated, constantly devising new methods to steal your personal information and wreak havoc on your financial life. As we’ve seen, identity theft is a growing epidemic, with cybercriminals employing various tactics to access your personal information. From phishing emails and smishing texts to vishing voice calls and even impersonation scams, the threat is very real.
That’s why it’s essential to know the warning signs of identity theft and how to protect yourself if your identity has been stolen, which we’ll cover in How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft – Part 2.
Remember, knowledge is your greatest defense. By being aware of the common ways your identity can be stolen and taking preventive measures like setting up PINs, monitoring your credit reports, and safeguarding your physical documents, you can reduce your vulnerability to identity theft.
Are you concerned about identity theft?
*Disclaimer: We offer content for informational purposes; Co-Op Co-operative Insurance Companies may not provide all the services or products listed here. Please contact your local agent to learn how we can help with your insurance needs.
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IdentifyTheft.org. 2023 Identity Theft Facts and Statistics. https://identitytheft.org/statistics/
CNBC. IRS flagged more than 1 million tax returns for identity fraud in 2023. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/05/17/irs-flagged-more-than-1-million-tax-returns-for-identity-fraud-in-2023.html
LegalJobs.com. 15 Insane Identity Theft Statistics to Keep in Mind in 2023. https://legaljobs.io/blog/identity-theft-statistics/
Money.com. Identity Theft Is Rampant in 2023 — Especially in These 5 Places. https://money.com/states-high-identity-theft-2023
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Nerd Wallet. Identity Theft: What It Is, How to Prevent It, Warning Signs and Tips. https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/how-to-prevent-identity-theft
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