Since 2013, close to twenty-two million people have had their identities stolen through data breaches that resulted in hackers gaining access to critical personal information like credit card and Social Security numbers. As hackers come up with new techniques, it is more important than ever to understand what identity theft is and how to prevent it.
Identity theft occurs when someone gains access to your personal information, which may include financial information such as credit card numbers, bank information, date of birth, Social Security number, and address. Once someone obtains this information, they can assume your identity and use it to access your financial resources and open new credit accounts. Once your identity is stolen, it can be nearly impossible to completely erase the damage. Damage could include great financial loss. Anyone can be a target of identity theft.
Common identity theft scams to look out for:
Phishing – when a criminal tries to steal your personal or financial information by using an email or website disguised as a legitimate company. There is usually a message asking you to click a link in order to update or verify your account information. If you click on the link, you will probably end up with malware installed on your computer. This malware can spy on your online activity and give the hackers access to any personal data that you store on your computer or enter to access an account. If you enter any personal or account details after clicking the link, you’ve just given that info to the criminals. Make sure to review all emails before opening them or clicking on any links they may contain. Familiarize yourself with the practices of companies you conduct business with, especially how they update and maintain your personal information. Also pay attention to the email addresses of those contacting you.
Ransomware – This kind of attack involves criminals gaining access to your identifying data and asking you to pay them a fee to stop them from using it. Ransomware is often delivered via a corrupt link in an email, a fake form on a website, or vulnerabilities in software. It may also be included in an attachment. One of the best ways to counter a ransomware attack is to have current backups of all your data.
False antivirus protection offers – Look for pop-ups, calls, or emails claiming to be from a company that offers antivirus and identity theft protection or computer repair. The communication typically claims that your computer has already been compromised or infected with malware. The claim typically says the company will eradicate the threat and restore any corrupted files before the damage can wipe out your whole machine. They will ask for your username and password and once they gain access to your computer, they can infect your computer with a virus that they then offer to repair for a fee.
Do not open or click on popups or emails warning you that your computer has been attacked. You can also install an ad-blocker to keep out potential threats and malware. Purchase and use a reputable antivirus program that regularly scans your computer and blocks malware.