What is identity theft?
Identity theft is a form of crime in which someone’s personal information is used without permission. What criminals need to do to commit identity theft is to steal the victim’s personal information. They can then disguise themselves and act in the victim’s name.
Identity thieves usually aim to gain money or other benefits at the victim’s expense. Therefore, the victim’s identity in itself is usually not what is the actual goal of the theft. Criminals want to use it as a tool to gain something else. However, identity theft can also be done to damage the victim’s reputation.
Identity theft has gone online
When criminals get their hands on physical identification or mail with personal information included, identity theft can occur offline as well. But during the last years much of it has moved online. That’s because there are tons of personal information on the internet.
Many online accounts, such as social media or shopping accounts, include sensitive information which criminals can use for identity theft. This information can be, for example, full name, home address, birthday, credit card number, etc. Hackers have multiple ways to steal it. And often in huge quantities at once.
In addition, online identity thieves have a pretty small risk of getting caught. That’s why identity theft nowadays happens mostly online, where criminals can get access to personal information for example through data breaches or phishing scams.
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft
If something can be said about online criminals, it’s that they don’t discriminate. If you are victimized, it’s probably nothing personal. The criminals probably have no idea who the victim actually is. Nor do they care. Each opportunity for identity theft is equal to them.
Many people might feel that they don’t have anything to steal, or that nobody would want to steal their identity. They might think they don’t have enough money, that they are too old, or otherwise find themselves an uninteresting target. They feel that their “identity is not worth stealing”. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Especially when you consider that it’s not their identity that the criminals want to steal.
Credit cards and loans can be applied in basically anyone’s name. Children and elderly people included. Online criminals can be ruthless and often prey on who they deem as easy target. The victim’s wealth or lack of it also doesn’t prevent identity theft. In fact, victims with lower income may have harder time recovering from the possible costs of identity theft compared to victims who are more well-off.
The damage caused by online identity theft can be severe and long-lasting
To maximize their profit, criminals use stolen information as fast and as much as they are able. Before any passwords are changed, credit cards are frozen, or any other countermeasures are taken, they can cause tremendous damage to victims. While the criminals walk away with the money and goods, what the victim of identity theft is left with are all the expenses.
In many cases the victim doesn’t even know that their identity has been stolen until they start to get bills or be contacted by debtors or the authorities. It can be a huge shock and can cause long-lasting personal issues in addition to all the financial damage and costs. Not to mention the time and effort it can take to fix the situation.
Investigating and repairing the damages of identity theft can take a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately, the task is left to the victim. The process can also cause much emotional distress. However, you can protect your personal information online. While no method is fool proof, here are 5 ways to protect yourself against online identity theft.
1. Set your email addresses for monitoring
Your email address is often tied to important personal information. When an online service you use gets breached, sensitive personal information may end up on the hands of hackers. If your data is leaked, you have a higher chance of becoming an identity theft victim.
If you don’t know about the breach, you can’t really protect yourself from the damage. That’s where F-Secure ID PROTECTION steps in. It monitors your email address 24/7, so when your email address has been found to be part of a data breach, you will be alerted. You will also get expert guidance on what to do next.
You can also use F-Secure ID Theft Checker for free to find out if your email address has already been compromised in a breach.
2. Use strong and unique passwords
Passwords are used in almost every service that requires logging in. All your personal information in online accounts are behind passwords. That’s why password security is important. Criminals usually steal your passwords through security breaches, phishing scams, malware and intercepting your web traffic.
To improve your password security, use strong and unique passwords that are hard to guess. This way if your password gets compromised, the damage will be limited to only one account. If you have reused a password, all the other accounts can be compromised as well. To ease the process, use a password manager, like the aforementioned F-Secure ID PROTECTION, to store and have your passwords available on all devices.
3. Use antivirus software
Malware and computer viruses are a major cause of leaked personal information. They can steal your credentials and banking information from your device without you knowing. Many types of malware are specifically designed to do this.
Without antivirus software it can be very hard to find out if your device has malware. The best way to be rid of malware is to prevent infection. Make sure to have your device running up-to-date antivirus software.
4. Be careful when opening links and attachments
Phishing sites are made to look legit to trick you into giving your credentials to criminals. Phishing sites URLs may have just a one-character difference with the actual site. Same goes with the email sender address. If you feed in your credentials, the site owner can use them.
Be careful when clicking on any suspicious links and attachments, especially on emails. Not only can they lead to phishing sites, they can also include malware. Make sure to check the sender and the URL of the page before feeding in your info.
5. Use a VPN on public networks
You can never know if a public WiFi network is safe. Your usernames, passwords, messages and bank information can be intercepted by malicious actors on the same public network.
A VPN encrypts your web traffic so that it can’t be intercepted by outsiders. That way you can use WiFi networks without having to worry about your data being intercepted by criminals. Always use a VPN when you are connecting to public WiFi networks.
F-Secure TOTAL helps you prevent identity theft
There are many ways to steal your personal information. If it gets into wrong hands, it can be used for identity theft. The consequences can be very serious, and it can take a very long time to fix the situation. Unfortunately, identity theft is not going anywhere. It has only increased and most likely it will continue to do so.
Don’t let yourself become a victim of what is called identity theft. Take control of your online identity and avoid damages. You can learn more on identity theft and identity theft protection from F-Secure’s blog here.