According to online identity theft statistics, around one-third of all Americans have experienced identity theft. Moreover, over 300,000 Americans are victims of phishing, vishing, and SMS attacks. In fact, in the US, there are over 50,000 individual personal data breaches reported each year.
With the increasing use of technology and the internet, cybercriminals are finding new ways to steal our personal information and use it for malicious purposes that have the potential to cause serious financial, emotional, and reputational harm.
In this article, let’s discuss what is online identity theft – and how to protect yourself from it.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a crime in which someone steals another person’s personal information, such as their name, Social Security number, credit card details, or bank account information, and uses it to commit fraud/other crimes. Identity theft can happen both offline and online.
In offline identity theft, a thief may steal your wallet, mail, or personal documents containing your sensitive information. They may use this information to open new credit accounts, obtain loans, or make purchases in your name.
Online identity theft, on the other hand, involves stealing your personal information through the internet. This can happen through various methods such as phishing, hacking, malware, or social engineering. Once the thief has access to your information, they can use it to commit various types of fraud such as stealing your money, opening new credit accounts, or even filing false tax returns.
What are examples of identity theft?
Identity theft can take many forms, and here are some of the most common online theft examples:
- Credit card fraud: A thief may use your credit card information to make unauthorized purchases or withdraw cash from ATMs.
- Account takeover: A criminal may gain access to your bank or investment accounts and transfer funds or make purchases without your knowledge.
- Identity cloning: A thief may use your personal information to create a new identity and obtain loans, credit cards, or other financial accounts.
- Tax identity theft: A criminal may use your Social Security number to file a false tax return and claim a refund.
- Medical identity theft: A thief may use your health insurance information to obtain medical treatment or prescriptions in your name.
- Employment fraud: A criminal may use your personal information to get a job or obtain government benefits.
What are the ways to commit identity theft?
How does identity theft happen online? Well, identity theft can be committed through various methods, and here are some of the most common ways:
- Phishing: A thief may send you an email or text message that appears to be from a legitimate organization, such as a bank or a government agency. The message may ask you to provide your personal information or click on a link that leads to a fake website designed to steal your information.
- Hacking: A criminal may gain unauthorized access to your computer or mobile device and steal your personal information stored on it. An identity theft online example is when you use public or hotel WiFi and a third party steals your personal information via an open connection.
- Malware: A thief may install malware on your computer or mobile device, which can steal your personal information, monitor your online activity, or take control of your device.
- Social engineering: A criminal may use social engineering tactics, such as pretending to be a customer service representative or a government official, to trick you into providing your personal information.
How to know if your online identity has been stolen?
It can be challenging to detect if your online identity has been stolen, as the thief may not immediately use your information to commit fraud. However, here are some signs that may indicate that your online identity has been stolen:
- Unfamiliar charges on your credit card or bank statement.
- Receiving bills or collection notices for accounts that you did not open.
- Being denied credit or a loan for no apparent reason.
- Receiving calls or letters from debt collectors for debts you do not owe.
- Discovering that someone has filed a tax return using your Social Security number.
If you notice any of these signs, it is crucial to take immediate action to protect your online identity and proactively perform damage control.
What happens if someone steals your identity online?
If someone steals your online identity, they can use your personal information to commit fraud, such as opening new credit accounts, taking out loans, or even filing false tax returns in your name. The consequences of online identity theft can be severe and long-lasting. Victims may face financial losses, damage to their credit score, legal problems, and emotional stress.
Another backlash you could face is your personal reputational ruin. The thief can blackmail you with the information they have and make you dance at their whim. The consequences are dire both ways because in the end, you lose everything in either scenario.
How to prevent online identity theft?
Preventing online identity theft requires being proactive and taking some steps to protect your personal information. Here are some tips to help you prevent online identity theft:
- Use a VPN: To avoid online identity theft cases, it is a priority to connect with a VPN server that encrypts your traffic and masks your identity online. Try ObscuredVPN today!
- Use strong passwords: Create unique passwords for all your accounts online. Do not use the same password for multiple accounts so to keep others when one gets stolen.
- Keep your software up to date: Keep your operating system, antivirus software, and other software up to date with the latest security patches.
- Be cautious of phishing scams: Be wary of emails, texts, or phone calls that ask for your personal information. When unknown links and download attachment show to prevent identity theft online, avoid clicking on them.
- Protect your devices: Use a password or biometric authentication to unlock your devices, and enable device encryption to protect your data if your device is lost or stolen.
- Monitor your accounts: Regularly review your credit card and bank statements to look for any unauthorized charges or transactions. Consider using a credit monitoring service to alert you to any suspicious activity.
Online identity theft is a growing problem today. To protect yourself from it, you must be proactive and take steps to safeguard your personal information. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can minimize your risk of becoming a victim of online identity theft and protect yourself. Remember, prevention is always better than cure.
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