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How To Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Updated: Nov 9, 2021






Identity theft is defined on Wikipedia as the deliberate use of someone else's identity, usually as a method to gain a financial advantage or obtain credit and other benefits in the other person's name, and perhaps to the other person's disadvantage or loss. The person whose identity has been assumed may suffer adverse consequences, especially if they are held responsible for the perpetrator's actions. Identity theft occurs when someone uses another's personally identifying information, like their name, identifying number, or credit card number, without their permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

This is what you need to do to prevent this from taking place.


1) Safeguard your Identification Number

This is the master key to your data which means you must guard it as best you can. This means that you need to be careful with all documents that may contain this number. If you need to dispose of such a document, it is important to shred it before throwing it in the trash.

2) Be on the Lookout for Phishing and Spoofing

You need to be aware of suspicious emails requesting personal information or prompting you to download attachments. Pay close attention to the email address. A Gmail or Hotmail address is a clear red flag. Also, pay careful attention to the grammar and autography of the mail. Most criminals were not schooled in the classics and the finer details of English grammar. Fraudsters are now also taking to the phone and fishing for data they can use in their criminal activities. Often the caller will pose as a bank or a government official. You can ask for their number indicating your desire to call them back to verify their number. Their reluctance to do so is another red flag.


3) Use Strong Passwords and Add an Authentication Step

People are negligent and lazy when it comes to choosing passwords, and hackers know this. And given that the same human creativity that goes into avoiding hard work is not channeled into the generation of passwords, it is a good idea to use a password manager. A password manager is a computer program that allows users to store, generate, and manage their passwords for online services. A password manager assists in generating and retrieving complex passwords, potentially storing such passwords in an encrypted database, or calculating them on demand. Go onto Google to find free password managers. These managers will help you to avoid the common mistake of reusing passwords. Google has a pretty solid password manager if you are an Android user. Adding an authenticator app can reduce your risk. You may think that security questions make your accounts bulletproof. Think again! Our private lives are not as private as you think – especially if you are a social butterfly on social media. We inadvertently reveal a great deal of personal information. A common security question is the name of your first pet, and we love to post pictures of our beloved four-legged friends.


4) Make Use of Bank Alerts

Your financial institution is as interested as you are in terms of preventing identity theft. This is not because they are concerned about you, but they are concerned about themselves and all the hassle of having to investigate fraudulent transactions and the possibility that they will need to compensate you. For this reason, they will allow you to opt in to receive alerts (SMS and/or email) when transactions go through your account or when you spend on your credit card. It would be foolish for you not to avail yourself of this service.


5) Become a Shredder

Once you take the trash outside of your house for collection, it is the public domain. Dumpster diving and trash picking aren't illegal by itself in the US. A U.S. Supreme Court Decision in 1988, California vs Greenwood, found that garbage was public domain when left in the ‘outside curtilage’ of a home or property, i.e., meaning that those placing trash by the curb have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Criminals are not below going through your trash looking for bank account details, ID numbers, and any other personal information that can be used to steal your identity. It is for this simple reason that you need to become a shredder and I am not talking about a musician who plays a very fast, intricate style of rock lead guitar. I am talking about a shredder of personal documentation.


6) Ditch the Leather Wallet and Go Digital

The use of physical wallets is in decline. Millennials aren’t just preferring a paperless future. They’re expecting a world where all money is going to be digital. One in four does use Google Wallet, PayPal, Square Cash, or Venmo to pay friends or get paid. As technology continues to make digital wallets more secure, convenient, and affordable, expect more and more Millennials to go cashless. According to PNC’s website (www.pnc.com), digital wallets may help to reduce fraud. The data stored in mobile wallets are encrypted, meaning your actual card account numbers aren't transmitted while making a payment. Mobile wallets use random payment codes that cannot be used again and often rely on certain security features, including biometrics, to authorize a payment. Furthermore, your full card account number isn't displayed anywhere in a mobile wallet, meaning prying eyes won't be able to capture your card number for future use. Also, your transactions are covered by the same security and privacy protections as your physical cards.


7) Bulletproof Your Mobile Devices

Given that our financial and personal lives are so concentrated on our mobile devices, it makes sense to pay attention to the security on your phone. The most important advice is to keep your device locked. Configure your phone to quickly time out due to inactivity. Another key piece of advice is to use your bank’s smartphone app (as opposed to their mobile phone website) to transact. Old school people like myself prefer to use the website. Bankrate.com says that online banking is less secure than a bank’s mobile app. “Some banks that have multi-factor authentication on their mobile apps don’t provide the same capability on their websites. Well-designed mobile apps don’t store any data, and you’re less likely to hear about a virus on a smartphone.”


8) Revise Your Accounts Regularly

At least weekly, you need to go into your bank accounts and check your transactions. You need to be on the lookout for irregularities. This can potentially be a problem if you have joint accounts with a spouse or partner because the other party could interpret this as "checking up " on them and imposing some form of economic abuse. Money is a sensitive topic in most relationships due to the inequality of earnings. If the husband is the income earner and is always checking the transactions of the wife, this can be seen as a sign of financial aggression. The topic needs to be discussed openly and the wife needs to understand that identity theft is common and steps need to be taken to minimize the risks.


9) Request Frequent Credit Reports

Some credit companies allow you to download a free credit report. The absence of irregular transactions in your account does not necessarily mean that you have not been a victim of identity theft. Regularly, you need to check your credit report. Numerous credit companies offer free reports and these reports will reveal if there any unauthorized transactions are being executed in your name.

So what needs to happen for you to be vulnerable to identity theft. In other words, what needs to happen for you to become vulnerable to identity theft.


1) Lost or Stolen Wallet

The most common way to lose control over your identity is losing your wallet which contains your ID card, credit cards, debit cards, and the condom that has been in there since high school. You want to keep photocopies are all your credit cards on hand in a secure location for this eventuality so that you can cancel your cards as soon as humanly possible. If your wallet is lost or stolen, you need to be on high alert for identity theft. You want to revise your account more regularly and access regular credit reports from the credit bureaus.


2) Using Public Wi-Fi

Public WIFI places you at risk. Many people are under the false impression that public WIFI that is password protected is secure. That is not the case because the password is available to the public. These hotspots allow hackers to position themselves between you and the connection point. So instead of talking directly with the hotspot, you're sending your information to the hacker, who then relays it on. The hacker has access to every piece of information you're sending out on the Internet: important emails, credit card information, and even security credentials to your business network. Once the hacker has that information, he can — at his leisure — access your systems as if he were you. Hackers can also use an unsecured Wi-Fi connection to distribute malware. One way to make your connection more secure is through a virtual private network (VPN) connection. Even if a hacker manages to position himself in the middle of your connection, the data here will be strongly encrypted. Since most hackers are after an easy target, they'll likely discard stolen information rather than put it through a lengthy decryption process. Also, enable the "Always Use HTTPS" option on websites that you visit frequently, or that require you to enter some kind of credentials. Turn off sharing from the system preferences or Control Panel, depending on your OS, or let Windows turn it off for you by choosing the "Public" option the first time you connect to a new, unsecured network. Finally, keep WIFI turned off when you are not using it – this will also help to lengthen the life on your battery.


3) Data Breaches

Yahoo found itself in the middle of the biggest data breach in history. More than 1 billion accounts were compromised in 2013, but this breach was not made public until 2016 and was most likely unrelated to the 500 million records stolen in 2014. Yahoo blamed the largest breach in history on hackers working on behalf of a government. Hackers invade databases holding sensitive information. Almost everyone has been affected by a data breach. These are beyond your control – you are at the mercy of the data security of the institutions with whom you do business which means it is not much you can do about this.


4) SIM Card Swap

A SIM swap scam — also known as SIM splitting, simjacking, sim hijacking, or port-out scamming — is a fraud that occurs when scammers take advantage of a weakness in two-factor authentication and verification in which the second step is a text message (SMS) or call to your mobile phone number. To reduce this threat you can do some of the following. Firstly, avoid providing online services with your cell phone number – there is no reason why they should have it. Secondly, in your two-step authentication, try not to use your phone number – and email is better. Thirdly you can use a prepaid sim card given that it is not tied to a name or another ID. Finally, try to unlink your phone number from accounts where possible. This final point is easier said than done but is worth a try.


5) Revealing Personal Info

Do not EVER give out personal data in response to an email or call. Enough said!

6) Skimming

A credit card skimming device reads the magnetic stripe on your credit or debit card when you slide it into a card reader at an ATM, gas pump, or another point of sale. The skimmer then stores the card number, expiration date, and cardholder's name. These stripes even appear on chip-enabled cards. Skimmers are typically installed at unattended credit card readers – such as gas pumps (most prevalent in the US). So how do you go about detecting a credit card skimmer? Check for any loose parts. Inspect the credit card reader before using it and be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked, or damaged. Skimmers also work at ATMs through cameras that are recording you enter your pin. Also, look at the keyboard to see if it has been tampered with.


7) Phone Scams

Whether live or automated (so-called robocalls), scam callers often pose as representatives of government agencies or familiar tech, travel, retail, or financial companies, supposedly calling with important information. It might be good news. (You're eligible for a big cash prize! You've been preselected for this great vacation deal!) It might be bad. (You owe back taxes. There's a problem with your credit card account. Your computer is infected with that virus you've been hearing about.) Whatever the issue, it can be resolved if you'll just, say, provide your identification number or make an immediate payment.


Here are a few tips to avoid falling for these schemes. Firstly, do not answer unrecognized numbers. Many cell phone providers provide screening for potential fraud or spam calls. Make sure that these services are activated. Secondly, do not call back one-ring calls from unknown numbers. Thirdly, do not provide any personal information and most certainly do not offer to make any payments. Finally, ask for a website or a phone number, and "offer" to call them back when you have had time to think about what they are offering. They will resist this response and they will pressurize you to take action than on the phone. That is a great cue to hang up the phone.


8) Looking Over Your Shoulder

You have seen movies that feature pickpockets who can remove the wallet from your inside jacket pocket without you realizing it. Fraudsters are talented individuals. They can learn a password just by watching your fingers as you key it in. We tend to let our guard down when in retail establishments – it could be the dopamine associated with retail therapy. Store attendants can also be sloppy about leaving your card on the counter while they are bagging your purchase. A healthy degree of paranoia is warranted in this day and age so you need to keep your wits about you at all times. Most stores these days do not require you to hand your credit card to the attendant. Most readers are partially covered to keep part of the keyboard out of people not directly in front of the reader. Having said this, there is no harm in being aware of your surroundings and being on the lookout for suspicious-looking characters.

9) Malware

Malware is the collective name for several malicious software variants, including viruses, ransomware, and spyware. Shorthand for malicious software, malware typically consists of code developed by cyberattackers, designed to cause extensive damage to data and systems or to gain unauthorized access to a network. How can you minimize the impact of malware? Firstly, you can install anti-virus software that will protect you from malicious software. Secondly, you need to frequently update your software to prevent hackers from taking advantage of vulnerabilities in old and outdated software. Thirdly, do not open suspicious emails or attachments; and do not click on suspicious links on web pages. Finally, back up your data to the cloud (like Google Drive) regularly so that if you do come under attack, your data can still be accessed post-attack.