Identity theft is nothing new, nor is it something that’s entirely an online problem. But combine the ingenuity of today’s criminal mind with the massive amount of personal information kept on the typical personal computer or smartphone, and you’ve got one of the biggest security problems in the world today.
Identity theft results in billions of dollars in financial losses each year, through assaults at both the consumer and corporate levels. It is a highly sophisticated crime using cutting-edge technology in pursuit of a very simple goal – finding a way in.
Cyber criminals began chasing this goal in earnest with SPAM, those annoying, unsolicited ads that deploy by the millions. In some cases, these ads were merely cover for the cyber-criminal just waiting for someone to click on the bogus offer and provide an open gate into their machine.
Over time, SPAM has given way to much more clever devices such as phishing which is email and text notices that are personalized to look like a legitimate email or notice from a service provider. Criminals have gotten so good at these tactics it’s even hard for experts to tell them apart from the real thing with the naked eye.
Sometimes your environment is what gives crooks the opening they are looking for. Public and open WiFi networks, such as what you’d find in a public library or coffee shop, are particularly risky. As everyone is logged into the same system, it makes it easier for criminals to maneuver and attempt to infiltrate among various users, looking for a way in.
In its Identity Theft Facts & Statistics 2019-2021 report, comparitech.com noted while the number of fraud incidents declined annually between 2018 and 2020, that still equates to 13 million fraud incidents in 2019 alone. And criminals have made the most of those opportunities, with fraud losses spiking 13 percent between 2018 and 2019, when losses totaled just under $17 billion, $3.5 billion of which came directly out of consumers’ accounts.
In pandemic-riddled 2020, identity theft was hitting on all cylinders according to information compiled by the Insurance Information Institute. Identity theft and fraud reports reached 4.8 million, up 45 percent over 2019. Identity theft alone comprised about 29 percent of that total, a 113 percent increase over the previous year. In 2020 the top types of identity theft involved government benefits and new credit card accounts.
Yet with so much of our lives happening online – from dentist appointments to paycheck deposits – going off the grid simply isn’t an option. What's a consumer to do? Check out the following recommendations for keeping your personal information safe, for starters.
GET CREATIVE WITH PASSWORDS
Your mother’s maiden name or your pet’s name isn’t particularly hard to uncover, especially if you’re on social media a lot. Spend the time to make a complex, unique password that includes character symbols and numbers. Multi-factor authentication, which adds a layer of security by requiring answers to personal questions or scans your fingerprint or retina, is also a good idea. And, most importantly, use a password manager to help to remember what you came up with!
PROTECT YOUR DEVICES
Make sure that your anti-virus and anti-malware software is up to date and don’t forget to make sure your smartphone is similarly protected. When selecting an internet service provider, be sure to do your homework on included security software, such as Kinetic Secure which provides the latest protection against malware and other intrusions.
DON’T OVERLOOK OLD SCHOOL
There are plenty of analog options for stealing someone’s identity. Writing down passwords, having paper bills mailed to your home, carrying a social security card or losing a credit card all give criminals an opportunity to do harm. Take advantage of online billing and shop around for credit cards that allow you to lock them from an app should they get lost.