One of the worst possible issues in the digital world is how easy identity theft is. Anyone can be targeted at any moment. What is identity theft? How does it happen? Why should I be concerned? Identity Theft is the process of someone stealing your personal information to act on your behalf for fraudulent purposes. Normally, these purposes range from stealing funds from bank accounts and signing up for debt such as loans or credit cards in your name to using you as an alias for robbery and more.
There are 4 main ways that identity theft can impact you:
Financial impacts can last years. We tie our credit cards, bank accounts and cheques to auto payments for bills and other financial debts. If our accounts become compromised, the safest option is to open new accounts and close existing, compromised accounts. Depending on the data compromised, identity theft can destroy your credit rating when an attacker attempts to open items in your name such as loans, mortgages, and credit cards. If a thief is able to compile enough debt in your name, it could be years of hard work identifying and proving legitimate debt vs. illegal debt.
The emotional toll, although less obvious, can still have a major impact on your life. Identity theft is a crime and being a victim can leave you angry, stressed, and worried. What did you do wrong? Why were you attacked? Was this personal or random? What if it happens again?
Often times, victims will blame themselves or their family members for not being careful enough with their personal information. Always remember that the person at fault is the Identity Thief and not you or your family.
In addition, the stress can have a physical impact on your body: sleepless nights, anxiety, high blood pressure, etc. Studies from ITRC (Identity Theft Resource Center) have shown that victims often show signs of missed work, loss of employment opportunities and sometimes require government or medical assistance.
If your name was used to commit crimes that lead to an arrest prior to your name being cleared; you will now have an arrest record in your background checks. This can affect everything from volunteer work to employment offers and even credit/mortgage applications.
The final category of identify theft is the social impact. Hackers can damage your reputation or put your business in jeopardy by taking over existing accounts or creating new accounts pretending to be you. Criminals can pose as friends or family members and damage your relationships. This is often referred to as “social engineering”.
To assist yourself in limiting the possibility of identity theft there are a few steps you can take to protect your identity.
Make your social media accounts private. Only accept friend requests and message requests from people you know. We keep a lot of information about who we are and what we are doing on social media.
Shred your garbage. Any letters, old magazine subscriptions and event package labels can be shredded before putting into the recycling. This makes it harder for someone to use your garbage to identify information about yourself.
Ensure to pick up your mail from the mailbox every day. If you can’t avoid leaving mail in the mailbox, think about using a locking mailbox which requires a key to retrieve the mail.
Keep copies of all receipts located securely at home. This will help to identify any unauthorized transactions.
Be aware of phishing scams. Read everything and second guess yourself before clicking unknown links in emails.
Use a password manager system with AES-256 encryption. This assists in the need to remember passwords but also assists in verifying websites. Can you tell the difference between gmail.com and gmai1.com? You may not notice the difference in the L or 1 at first; but the password manager can.
Use different emails and passwords for different websites. Use one specifically for banking / shopping, another for social media and a 3rd for business. This will keep your financial and important items more secure.
Change passwords regularly and use random characters. Passwords with sequences (888 or 12345) are much easier to decipher compared to 5d8ga7@2!
Watch and monitor. Check your bank account and credit card statements regularly and verify all purchases were made by yourself. Monitor your credit score and verify who has run your credit rating, even run a personal police background check on yourself. The more aware you are in how your information is being used, the better protected you will become.