What is identity theft?… How common is it? How do identity thieves operate, and which online scams should you watch out for?

Identity theft continues to be the fastest growing crime in America. It’s consistently one of the top consumer complaints. If you are a college student or in the military, you are one of the most targeted populations by thieves.

It’s been known to cost the victim both time and money, as, on average, 100s of hours, many months, and thousands of dollars are spent to resolve each crime. Identity theft has increased because it’s so easy to do and the rewards are so large

Okay, now that we understand the seriousness of the crime, let’s get down to the business of beating it because it’s not going away, but it can be mitigated. Let’s start with a definition.

Identity theft takes many shapes and forms. We’ll condense it to this: Identity theft is when an unauthorized person uses your personal information to access your financial accounts, open new accounts, or commit a crime.

How can your identity be stolen?

From the theft of your personal information while you’re online, to a grab of data off your unattended paperwork, to the robbery of your credit card information, to breached personal information from companies you work with, identity thieves just need some basic information. The outcome can include fraudulent charges, damaged credit, and a drained checking account.

But you can take steps to avoid being a victim. We’re going to list some of the most common scams and how you can take steps to stop an identity thief.
  1. You’ll want to watch out for phishing, pharming, vishing, and smishing. These are the strangely named and commonly used tools for identity thieves. Phishing is an attempt to steal your personal information through email by pretending to be a trustworthy source.
    1. For example, say an identity thief sends you an email pretending to be your bank. Your bank’s logo is on the email, and it looks legitimate. The thief asks you to respond with personal information. The best way to avoid being caught in this scam is to never share personal information via email.
  2. Pharming is another type of scam where a hacker installs malicious code on a personal computer or server. This code then redirects clicks you make on a website to another fraudulent website without your knowledge. To avoid pharming before you submit any personal information on a website, look for a padlock symbol on the website and https in the website address.
  3. Vishing attempts to get you to provide personal information over the phone. The thief again pretends to be a legitimate business in need of your personal information to solve a problem for you. You might receive a voice mail asking for your immediate attention. The number provided leads to an automated service asking you to enter personal information. Before you ever give personal information over the phone, make sure you know this is a trusted source.
  4. Smishing uses cell phone text messages to get you to provide personal information. Often, the text will contain a URL or phone number. And again, just like vishing, the smishing message usually asks for your immediate attention. If something is vitally important, it’s unlikely to be sent via text message. Do not respond to smishing messages.
  5. Although these types of identity theft are frequently discussed, the most common way your identity can be stolen is through theft. When we say theft, we mean physically stealing something that belongs to you from right under your nose. This includes stealing your mail or searching through your recycling or trash for statements or documents containing personal information. It can also mean stealing your wallet or purse, and, sometimes, you might not even know that your information has been stolen. Take, for example, skimming.
    1. Skimming occurs when a device records your credit card information and sends it to the thief to make unauthorized purchases. It can happen at an ATM or a retail store, anytime someone gets a moment alone with your credit card.
    2. Help prevent physical theft by shredding any documents with personal information when they are no longer needed and locking away personal documents. If you’re in a dorm or share housing with other people, consider bringing these personal documents home where they are safer. Also, frequently check your credit and debit card accounts for fraudulent charges. Items with your full social security number, like a social security card, should not be carried in your wallet or purse but instead stored and transported safely. 

It may seem like identity theft is everywhere, but if you protect yourself online, on your mobile device, at your mailbox, and always be on-guard for theft, you’ll start fighting the battle against identity theft.  And, because identity theft can happen to anyone, everyone should take a few precautions to avoid becoming a victim. Identity Theft Protection is always an option as well.  At defend-id we mitigate the risks of identity theft, insure against loss and help you recover fully if it happens to you!


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