There’s increased demand on the dark web for personal information that could be used for identity theft and other fraudulent activities. Cybercriminals specializing in ID theft will do everything possible to get their hands on your private information such as date of birth, credit card numbers, bank account credentials, or social security numbers. In this article, you’ll find signs of identity theft to look out for, information about email and phishing scams, ways to protect your identity on social media, and finally learn how to protect your identity.
Signs of Identity Theft to Look Out For
Identity theft is a fast-growing crime and affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Protecting your personal details to avoid becoming a victim of ID theft requires both awareness and education. The main problem with identity theft is that the victim gets to know his/her identity has been compromised when it’s too late. It’s for this reason you should keep a watchful eye for identity theft red flags. Following are some of the signs of ID theft you should look out for:
Charges in Your Bank Accounts You Don’t Recognize
Even a small charge on your bank account summary could be a sign or flag that you are a victim of financial ID theft. The best thing you can do is regularly check your account and immediately contact your bank if you notice suspicious charges or any withdrawals you’re not familiar with.
Small Credit Card Charges
Another flag that you might be a victim of financial identity theft is unfamiliar activity on your credit card, especially the small charges. Cybercriminals often make small charges to test a credit card to see whether a fraud charge will be successfully processed. If a criminal has stolen your credit card number and made a few fraudulent purchases, get in touch with your credit card company and notify them of these fraudulent charges.
Being Rejected for a Loan
If your loan application is rejected but you have a good credit history, you might have been a victim of identity theft. Also, if your credit or loan is approved but at a much higher interest rate than expected, that’s another sign you might have been a victim of ID theft.
Creditors or Banks Alert You for Suspicious Activity
It is possible that someone can use your personal information and name to get a bank loan. Another sign of identity theft is receiving alerts from banks and creditors about suspicious activity that you don’t recognize.
No Longer Receiving Your Household Bills in the Mail
If you’re no longer receiving bills in your mail, it could be a warning sign that your personal information has been compromised, and the criminal has changed your address to keep you from seeing your latest bill statements.
Protect Your Identity on Social Media
We all know that social media identity theft has over the past few years been on the rise, and sharing too much personal information online puts you at more risk. Do you know that scammers can use your photos and personal data to create fake LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts with your images and name on them?
They can then use the fake social media profile to scam others or tarnish your reputation. And each time they spread hateful messages or trick people into sending them money, your coworkers, and family members might think you are the one promoting hate speed or committing the crime.
Luckily, you can take the right steps to protect yourself against such scammers. First, you must be careful about the information you share online, cautiously manage your social media settings, and report all fake social media accounts.
Protect Against Social Media Identity Theft
Criminals who use your photos and information to create fake social media profiles in your name and personal information can cause you lots of trouble. Luckily, below are tips you can use to reduce the chances of falling victim to such a scam.
Beware of Phone and Email Phishing Scams
Scammers use text messages and emails to trick unsuspecting users into sharing with them your personal information.
What Is Phishing?
Phishing refers to various kinds of scams that ‘phish’ for your financial and personal information, including credit card numbers, bank account information, social security number, your passwords, and other sensitive details.
The messages usually claim to come from legit sources such as a bank, online payment service, a renowned software company, or other renowned institutions. Some of the messages will use a company’s trademark, logo, and email address to fake legitimacy. Phishing messages might also appear to come from a colleague or trusted friend. Phishing messages could come from different sources, including:
- Text messages
- Social media messages (Twitter, Facebook, and more)
- Fraudulent software
- Phone calls
As mentioned earlier, scammers use text messages or email to tricking unsuspecting users into sharing personal information. They might try to steal your social security numbers, account numbers, or passwords. If the criminals get this information, they might gain access to your credit card details or bank account. In essence, scammers launch thousands of phishing attacks every day, and most of these are successful.
Scammers regularly update their methods, but there are a few things you can look out for to help recognize a phishing text message or email. Today, there are different types of phishing attacks, including email and phone phishing. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at email and phone phishing. Vigilance is crucial when dealing with phishing emails. For example, if a company notifies you that an order has been placed and you should click on the ‘cancel’ link if you didn’t place the order. Technically, you become suspicious since you never placed the order.
Email Scams are usually very deceptive, but there’s always a way to recognize that it’s a scam. First, forget about the technicalities, and listen to your ‘heart’ – do you think something is wrong? If this is the case, you should pay close attention to the message. How is the sentence structure, spelling, and grammar? Do you think it’s a trusted source of a professional email?
Secondly, thoroughly inspect the sender’s address and take note of anything that seems odd. For instance, although firstname.lastname@example.org seems plausible, email@example.com looks suspicious. Also, you could check any other emails you’ve received in the past to compare the sender’s address.
Alternatively, you could receive an email from a colleague asking you to download an attachment, but something seems odd. It could be a criminal who has accessed your colleague’s email account, and they’re trying to steal your identity too. In such a case, you should contact your bank and enquire if it’s really them.
Have you ever received a call from your bank? The chances are high since it’s one of the most common phone scams also known as vishing attacks. Vishing is an attempt to gather personal and sensitive details over the phone. Criminals usually pretend to represent your bank, government agency, or tech support to steal personal information or remotely gain access to your PC.
A good example would be receiving a call from a ‘bank’ to verify your online username and passwords so that you can recover all your stolen savings. The caller’s prime goal is to create a scenario of extreme urgency that forces you to panic and become desperate as you try to remedy this situation.
Phishing scams that urge you to take action might also be coming from fraudsters, again asking you to quickly act to save something. For example, a phone call might say your bank account will be closed, and all savings voided if you don’t act. Below are some of the best practices to help avoid phone phishing.
- Always be careful when answering phone calls from unknown numbers, even if the phone number appears local.
- If the caller requests sensitive information, don’t answer them.
- Utilize a caller identity app, but do not trust it fully.
- Search for a caller’s telephone number online to see whether he/she is a known phone scam.
- If the phone call is about a service or product you use, directly call the vendor or visit their official website to confirm these claims.
What Else to be Careful For
How do identity thieves get their hands on your sensitive details? There are different ways, from complex technological attacks to simply coming across your lost wallet. Here are three ways your driver’s license number, address, social security number, or full name could land on the wrong hands and possibly result in identity theft.
Public Wi-FI Networks
Most public Wi-Fi networks are often exposed to threats from online hackers. This makes it possible for criminals to eavesdrop on your private information. Scammers might also implement the USB charging scam, commonly called juice jacking, where malware infects your device if it’s connected to a hotel USB port or a USB charging station at the airport.
Security experts advise users not to do anything involving making purchases or logging into their accounts on insecure public Wi-Fi networks. Making purchases could result in you unknowingly handing over credit card numbers or login information to a thief.
Looking Over Your Shoulder
Scammers can quickly learn your username and password just by watching over your shoulders as you key in your logins. Also, the information on your debit card could be photographed as you shop in a public place.
Have you noticed many people are using their mobile phones, tablets, or laptops in public places to make online purchases? Unfortunately, such behavior could leave an individual susceptible to “shoulder surfing” methods often used by ID thieves in overcrowded places, especially hotels and airports.
Skimming occurs when scammers steal information as a credit or debit card is swiped. Criminals tamper with an electronic card reader in such a way that it records card data. They do so by placing the recording device, also known as a skimming device, at any ATM. Some scammers even recruit crooked storeowners to steal consumer’s card data. Following are a few tips to avoid skimming:
- Use a credit card with chips, with an added layer of protection
- Avoid using unmonitored payment sites
- Setup text and email alerts to let you know when your debit cards are used.
10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Identity thieves are always looking for new ways to get their hands on financial and personal information such as social security numbers or credit cards. Whether the ID thieves use methods such as sophisticated phishing emails or stealing your wallet, there are effective steps you can take to help protect your financial and personal information.
Although it might be impossible to completely prevent identity theft, educating yourself and learning more about identity theft can help protect your data. Following are some ways you can protect yourself against identity theft.
Consider Using Identity Theft Protection Service
The best identity theft protection service promises to protect your personal information for a small fee. Identity protection services monitor databases and websites for signs of personal data like bank account numbers, medical ID, driver’s license number, and social security number. Your sensitive data might be stolen and used by fraudsters in different ways. Fortunately, an identity theft protection service can significantly help minimize your risk of identity theft and fraud.
Beware Of Phishing
Phishing is the form of scam where an attacker tries to access sensitive data such as account information or login credentials by impersonating a renowned entity. The best thing you can do is to avoid clicking on suspicious links in text messages or emails.
As mentioned earlier, in phishing, criminals use websites and emails that look like they are from your mortgage lender, credit card Company, or bank to trick unsuspecting users into entering their private data. These text messages might even ask you to download an attachment that installs ransomware or virus on your device. If you think a link is not legit, you should not click on it. Also, never type in your password or username on any unfamiliar login screen.
Monitor You Mailbox
Regularly check your physical mailbox. Moreover, if you can, ask for paperless statements from banks or other institutions that might use your personal information to contact you, like wealth management firms or government agencies.
If you are not available or you’ll be out of time for a while, ask for a relative or trusted friend to pick up your mails; otherwise, put your mails on hold. Regularly monitoring your mailbox helps you check whether your credit card statements or other bills are the way they should do. This is because some identity thieves might change your physical address so that you don’t receive bills.
Keep Your Personal Documents Safe
You should never throw sensitive personal documents like personal records, 401(k), expired credit cards, medical statements, credit card offers, receipts, or bank statements in a trash bin without shredding them. This is because identity thieves might dig through your trash or recycle bin to get your personal information.
So, be careful when discarding physical statements and private records that include financial and/or personal data. Moreover, avoiding leaving your mails in the mailbox because identity thieves often target physical mailboxes. If you’ll be leaving town for a while and you’re expecting a bank statement, the best thing you can do is asking a trusted friend to check your mailbox.
Check Your Credit Reports
Use an Internet banking system and regularly check through your account to see any suspicious charges. Besides carefully monitoring your bank statements for suspicious activities, you should check in on your credit reports. TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax are the three main credit-reporting bureaus that give customers access to free credit reports.
You should regularly check to ensure that any accounts in deferment or forbearance are correctly reported and watch out for signs of fraudulent activities. Also, you can try out the best identity theft protection services to guarantee credit alerts in case a suspicious activity is detected. Remember to check out our identity theft protection reviews to find the top identity protection companies.
Use Credit Alerts
You should take advantage of the available credit alerts to make sure you are privy to all charges and activities on your credit cards. The good news is many banks, and other financial companies will email or text you if transactions are made on your credit or debit cards. You should sign up for identity theft protection services to receive regular updates if your cards are used to make deposits or withdrawals from your financial accounts.
Shred Documents You Don’t Need
Identity thieves are after personal information. Your social security number and date of birth are particularly vulnerable. Therefore, shredding anything that contains sensitive data is a great idea. Other details you should be wary of are your driver’s license number, work or home telephone numbers, and full name. Types of documents you should consider shredding
- Credit reports
- Credit card bills, receipts, summaries, and carbon copies
- Voided and canceled checks
- Birth certificate copies
- Bank statements
- ATM receipts
- Address labels from magazines and junk mail
Always make sure that all documents that aren’t shredded are locked up. These include financial statements, titles and deeds, tax-related documents, social security cards, citizenship papers, divorce and marriage papers, adoption papers, and birth certificates.
Secure Your Devices with Password
You should use a password to protect your sensitive details on your computer or mobile device. Don’t use the same password on multiple accounts or devices. If you have multiple devices, then you should consider using a password manager to create and keep complex, strong passwords for your devices. Adding an authenticator app could significantly reduce the risks.
Furthermore, you should not count on security questions because finding the name of your first pet or your first school won’t be hard for identity thieves to find. You should carefully think about the personal information you post on Facebook or other social media platforms to avoid giving away clues or key data.
Use Password Manager Software
With a password manager, you don’t have to remember all your passwords. Rather than type every password into a website, you get to type a master password, which then fills in the relevant login details into the website. You shouldn’t use the same password on different accounts or devices because it puts you at risk. If you use the same password, it becomes very easy for scammers to figure out the single password and then gain access to all your accounts.
It’s best if you use different passwords. Also, don’t include your birthday or names on your password because fraudsters already know this is what most people use, and they only have to find out your birth date to figure out your birthday.
Don’t Give Out Personal Information Over the Phone
Many phishing attempts are carried out through phone calls made by scammers posing as credit card or bank representatives. The scammers will then ask you to provide personal information to prevent a scam or help them maintain your account. Never answer such questions. This is because no legit bank or financial institution will ever call you asking for personal information like your social security number or card PIN. If you suspect the call is possibly legit, hang up and contact your bank using the phone number provided on your bank statements.