Each individual has his or her own unique identity. It is what distinguishes them from others in the same lot. Makes them who they essentially are. If this private and personal information is stolen and used for obtaining money or credit loans without the victim’s permission, then, it counts as a serious criminal offense—often termed as an ‘identity theft’.
Unfortunately, the scourge of fraudulent impersonation is on the rise these days and is a matter of great concern. Millions of homes are hit by such swindles worldwide. In the US alone, around 60 million people were affected by identity theft in one way or another this very year (The Harris Poll survey).
How can you possibly prevent yourself from becoming a victim to this heinous practice? First, by being aware of what identity theft truly is, in what shapes does it come and in what manners does it affect people. Second, by following some of the best protection tips as recommended by security experts. Lucky for you, this post will detail the most common types of identity thefts and the tips you need to stay safe in the future. Check them out below.
Identity Theft: Major Types
Do you love oversharing on social media to satisfy your self-expression needs? Are you in the habit of tossing out bank statements into the trash without shredding them first? Can you confess to giving out your Social Security number too casually? Then, you, my dear reader, are in the red zone of vulnerability.
Identity thieves are clever individuals. They know of multiple ways to locate and exploit any piece of personal information that is let out in an offhand way. Using a small round pebble, they can shatter your entire castle of glass. Therefore, knowing the ways in which identity theft is orchestrated can give you an upper hand to fix those mistakes of yours on time and to be careful generally. The most common types of ID thefts are:
- Current Account Theft: This happens when the fraudster gains access to your main financial account(s). The damages include extravagant credit card charges made cleverly over time, false insurance claims, bank loans, and whatnot.
- New Account Theft: This happens when the fraudster gets his or her hands on your confidential information, found either online or by rummaging through trash, and creates a new bank account in your name. This type of fraud gives the thief a free pass to do as he or she pleases with the entire burden of accountability falling on your shoulders. Government Benefits Theft: This happens when the fraudster, upon stealing someone’s private information, applies for government benefits and funds in the victim’s name.
- Tax Theft: This happens when the fraudster files your taxes using your Social Security number—acquired via online phishing campaigns or via suspicious phone calls—claiming a refund from the IRS. A major red flag is when the IRS rejects your tax return request. That is when you know something is wrong.
- Employment ID Theft: This happens when an unemployed fraudster takes advantage of your Social Security number to get a job. The taxes levied on the income earned thereby leads back to you because it is your information that has been manipulated in the first place. It cuts you off from SS benefits later on as well.
- Synthetic ID Theft: This happens when the fraudster concocts a mixture of real and fake information to create a single identity, often called a synthetic identity, and uses it to obtain credit loans and whatnot. It ends up hurting the retailers most of all.
- Medical ID Theft: This happens when the fraudster wrongfully uses your health insurance details to get medical care under your name. Consequently, the doctors update your health records with the impersonator’s information, which majorly jeopardizes your own future treatment.
- Estate Theft: This happens when the fraudster uses a deceased individual’s papers to get a lease on the victim’s estate.
These are the major recurring patterns of identity theft that we have seen over time. Many more clever antics still need to be explored. However, among the aforementioned, the tax/employment categories constitute about 34% of the overall theft rate, according to the Federal Trade Commission. On second place, you will find credit card fraud at 33%, then, utility fraud at 13%, bank fraud at 12%, lease fraud at 7% and government benefits theft at 7% as well. The frequencies are on the rise.
Identity Theft: Preventive Tips
Now that you have familiarized yourself with the forms of identity theft, it is time to take action against it. How? By implementing the following preventive and protective tips.
- Freeze your Credit File: Applying for credit freeze will ensure that your permission/verification is required by phone before your credit file is shared with any third party.
- Fortify your Network: The internet is a dangerous stream. So, protect your devices from any sort of malware by installing the latest antivirus protection program, like Bitdefender or Kaspersky. Anything that shields your computing device and your internet browser from online attacks and deciphers suspicious phishing activities/links. Other than this, I would recommend that you stay away from the open public Wi-Fi networks, and stick to your safe, private internet connection as acquired from those reliable Xfinity packages or some such providers.
- Properly Destroy the Unneeded Junk: Trash is the first place thieves go to for extracting any sort of crucial identity information. So, make sure that whatever you chuck away has been properly neutralized. Shred the junk papers and format the damaged USBs. Leave no trace.
- Keep Strong Backups: This includes noting down the contents of your wallet and making doubles of your confidential documents—storing the crucial things away in tight-security safes. As regards the online back-ups, I would suggest that you avoid them because in case your digital line is hacked, it could leak everything.
- Hire Professionals: One of the easiest ways to prevent identity theft is by subscribing to professional protective services with a proper credibility score. Some of the best organizations which offer comprehensive services include, IdentityForce (state of the art monitoring and alert system—at $19.95/mth), LifeLock (backed by Symantec and recovery specialists—at $9.99/mth), Experian IdentityWorks (best for beginners—at $9.99/mth for Plus version and $19.99/mth for Premium) etc. Apart from these, credit-monitoring services will provide an extra shield of protection too. The best ones for 2019 include Credit Sesame (instant credit score and free!), Mint (monitors spending and has an easy mobile app functionality!), Wells Fargo (works in line with the three major credit bureaus and tracks score) etc.
In conclusion, if you wish to safeguard your identity in the coming year, then heed to the aforementioned pointers for information and protection. Let nothing compromise your personal safety and the safety of your loved ones!