Identity Theft in the Age of Cybersecurity

Although the number of identity theft cases fell from 16.7 million in 2017 to 14.4 million in 2018, the number of people held financially liable in these cases and the amount of their losses increased, according to the Insurance Information Institute. These identity theft statistics show that identity theft is still a major concern and consumers need to be on high alert to avoid becoming the next victims. 

Today, criminals don’t need physical access to your financial documents to wreak havoc on your life. They can simply find your personal information online and use it to steal your identity. Fortunately, in the age of cybersecurity, you can fight back. 

How Our Daily Activities Are Digitized and Prone to Data Breaches 

Thanks to the Internet of Things, easily accessible Wi-Fi, and other technological advances, we’re almost always connected to others. You can chat with family across the country through video chat, watch a video online for a recipe you’re preparing, and add items to your grocery list all at the same time. While this technology can make our lives easier, in many ways, it can also make us more vulnerable to attack. 

Every digital activity leaves a footprint and a possible access point for criminals. Everywhere you go, there’s data stored about you. The International Data Corporation prepared the 2020 Thales Data Threat Report, which revealed that nearly half of U.S. companies have experienced some type of data breach at some point. Furthermore, researchers estimated that at least 26% of U.S. companies have experienced a data breach within the last year. 

If that’s not concerning enough, a University of Maryland study found that a hacking attempt occurs every 39 seconds. If you’re not careful, hackers can infiltrate your digital bubble and steal your sensitive information.  

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Common Types of Identity Theft and Their Consequences 

According to the 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), some of the most common data breach attempts include:

  • Credential stuffing – Credential stuffing occurs when many username and password combinations are inserted to try to gain access to an account. According to the DBIR, an average of 922,331 attempts were made at organizations that experienced this type of attack.
  • Malware – Malware is a type of virus that infiltrates your network, often to steal information, such as your personal data and identification. Malware usually relies on exploiting a system’s vulnerabilities. 
  • Ransomware – Ransomware takes a hold of an account and blocks out the authentic user. To regain access, you are instructed to pay a large ransom. 
  • Phishing – Phishing attempts that try to get you to hand over your credentials by pretending to be your bank or other trusted sender are increasingly using social engineering to trick you, according to the DBIR. An example of this type of attack was committed by Chinese hackers who breached an email system of a Mumbai branch to learn the rhythm of the business, identify important members of the business, and learn its vocabulary and customs. The hackers ran off with nearly $19 million.

A newer method to try to steal identities is account takeover fraud in which the criminal gains access to your account and then changes information about it so that you’re not informed of luxury purchases or cash withdrawals.

Identity theft can cause tremendous damage to your credit. It often takes months or longer to learn about the theft and the accounts affected, so by the time you notice, the thief could have been racking up thousands of dollars of debt in your name and not paying on any of it. Additionally, you can face additional legal consequences, such as having your wages garnished or being sued. Once your information is stolen, it can be difficult to stop the damage because your information might be sold on the dark web.

How to Avoid Identity Theft 

It’s more important than ever to be vigilant about protecting your identity online since more people are working from home and logging into public Wi-Fi than ever before. Here are some tips to help you avoid identity theft:

  • Keep an eye on your credit and changes in your score
  • Avoid accessing any financial data from an unsecured network
  • Consider using credit monitoring tools
  • Use strong passwords and don’t repeat passwords across various sites

What to Do If You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

If it’s already too late and you suspect someone has already stolen your identity, it’s time to move on to damage control. You might want to freeze your credit so that no one can apply for new credit in your name. Order a free credit report and carefully review it for any unauthorized accounts or changes. 

Report the theft to law enforcement. You might need to make a police report and provide a copy to your creditors. The FTC’s website has additional resources for identity theft victims.

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