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What is Identity Theft?

The ins and outs of what Identity Theft actually is and how to prevent it from happening to you.
“Identity theft” it’s a term most people have heard, but don’t realize just how prevalent it is. For example, in 2020, identity theft reports to the FTC increased by 45% from 2019, largely as a result of so much of society shifting away from the workplace and towards work from home (WFH) schedules. Identity theft is what happens when criminals use another person's personal identifying information (PII), such as their name, social security number, or phone number to commit fraud or other crimes. Now you may be thinking that identity theft is just about credit cards, but really it’s a lot broader, which means there’s a lot more you should know about how identity theft works. Below is a run-down on some of the forms of identity theft used today, and what you can do about it. By understanding the different tactics cybercriminals use, you can better avoid becoming a victim.

Forms of identity Theft

According to the FTC, the most common types of identity fraud in 2020 were government benefits fraud, followed by credit card fraud, followed by personal loan or business fraud, followed by tax fraud. Yes, cybercriminals actually file tax returns in order to claim refunds!  But these forms of identity theft are by no means exhaustive. There is also employment fraud in which criminals use your personal information like your social security to avoid background checks. This can interfere with your tax records. Similarly, in medical identity theft, criminals can rack up huge bills using your insurance, that may or may not come to you.  Even children aren’t exempt from identity theft – in fact, they’re prime targets for criminals because they have a clean credit record. In some cases, criminals use your personal information when facing legal charges, which could leave you with a criminal record of crimes someone else committed. Other forms of identity theft include estate fraud, in which criminals use a deceased person's data to set up new accounts, receive benefits, and more. In synthetic fraud, criminals will use personal information from your identity combined with a non-existent or third person to make it harder to catch the scam. Of course, account takeover or impersonation is one of the most known forms of identity theft today.
In some cases, criminals use your personal information when facing legal charges, which could leave you with a criminal record of crimes someone else committed.

How criminals get to your personal information

There are several ways criminals get their hands on your PII. In recent years, viruses, malware, and phishing scams have become extremely prevalent in duping people into providing their PII for the use of criminals. Another way criminals get your data is through major data breaches, such as that of Facebook recently. Other tactics include ATM overlays to get your credit card information, or mail fraud – sifting through trash to get PII and set up new accounts or taking over existing accounts and changing the address or information to obtain new cards. PII is important because it is the basis on which criminals base their scams. Without PII, there is no fraud. Once those criminals obtain the data, they can use it themselves or repurpose the data and sell it online to other criminals.

Tips to protect your modern identity

You should always be vigilant in protecting your PII, but online there are extra measures to help keep you safe. Here are our top three. Verify: Most accounts, including your email and social media accounts have two-factor or multi-factor authentication. This means that in order to log in, you must verify your identity from a secondary device. This can massively reduce your chances of becoming a victim of cybercrime, and it’s easy to do. See how to set up two-factor on Gmail: Change it up: Cybercriminals know that most people use the same passwords for multiple accounts. Never use the same passwords for your financial accounts like your email, and be sure to change your passwords regularly. Additionally, never reuse a password that has previously been compromised. Want to see if your data has been breached on the Darknet? Email [email protected] to ask for your personal report. Don’t overshare: Criminals know how to collect PII from social media and other sites. Don’t openly share emails, addresses, your date of birth, or other PII that could be used by criminals to verify your identity and take over or create accounts.
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