What Is Identity Theft and How Can You Prevent It?


Millions of people fall victim to identity theft every year, and these figures keep skyrocketing. While anyone can be a target, identity thieves usually target people who don’t follow strong internet safety practices.

So, what is identity theft, how is it committed, and how can you prevent it?

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is an act where someone steals your sensitive personal information and uses it for malicious activities. This involves acquiring your personal details, such as your ID number, social security number, and credit card information.

Usually, identity thieves will use this information to obtain credit, buy items, or conduct unlawful activities in your name.

Let’s now get an idea of how identity theft is committed.

How Do Cybercriminals Commit Identity Theft?

Cybercriminals use various techniques to harvest your personal information. Here are just a few of their tactics.

1. Intercepting Network Traffic Via Unsecured Browsing

Hacking a PC

Identity thieves can easily intercept your network traffic through unsecured browsing. Some common examples of unsecured browsing include using open public Wi-Fi or visiting unsecured websites.

2. Wi-Fi Hacking

If you’re using a vulnerable Wi-Fi router with a simple password, this makes you an easy target for cybercriminals. When a hacker successfully cracks your router’s password, they can help themselves to all the data that flows through it.

3. Selling and Buying Personal Data on the Dark Web

Some cybercriminals can steal your personal information and sell it on the dark web. Things then start getting complicated when your data lands in the wrong hands.

4. Data Breaching

Some hackers acquire sensitive personal information by breaking into the servers of a company that doesn’t look after your details. This stolen data can include personal identification numbers, addresses, credit card information, and passwords for all the employees of that particular company.

Related: How Do Websites Keep Your Passwords Secure?

5. Distributing Malicious Software

Identity thieves can sometimes use malicious software (called “malware”) to obtain your personal information. These programs can remain undetected while they harvest the sensitive personal information on your device.

6. Email Hacking

Email hacking happens when someone gains full access to your email account without your consent. When this happens, the cybercriminal can dig through your emails to learn everything about you. Sometimes, they send emails on your behalf so they could gain additional information about you, about others, and spread further malware.

7. Phishing

PC Hacker

Identity thieves can easily harvest your personal information in bulk through phishing. This normally involves a thief sending you a fraudulent email that lures you into disclosing your personal data.

A phishing email is often designed to imitate a legit email from a trusted source like your employer or bank. But when you respond, you’re actually sending your information to a cybercriminal.

8. Pharming

Pharming is when a cybercriminal redirects you from a trusted site to a bogus website that looks like the legitimate one. Once you’re redirected to the fake website, your login credentials and other critical personal information end up falling into the hands of identity thieves.

How to Protect Yourself From Identity Thieves

Identity thieves usually prey on people who aren’t knowledgeable when it comes to keeping safe online. So, to protect yourself against these culprits, here are a few security practices you should follow.

1. Visit Secured Websites

Secure logo

To avoid pharming and other cyberthreats, you’ll need to practice good internet security habits such as visiting secured websites. Your data gets exposed when you visit unsecured sites, so be careful when entering any personal details anywhere you don’t necessarily trust.

At the very least, check you’re using a site with an SSL certificate, i.e. the URL will start with HTTPS—that “S” stands for “Secure”, meaning some level of encryption.

2. Clear Your Browsing History on Public Computers

If you type in sensitive information on a public computer, always clear your browsing history afterwards. Otherwise, you could be leaving scammers with all the information they need to steal your identity.

3. Secure Your Email Account and Avoid Shady Emails

Securing your email account is the best way to avoid threats such as email hacking. In addition to protecting your email, you should also avoid suspicious emails that might end up making you a victim of phishing attacks.

Don’t click on any links or attachments in emails you don’t trust.

4. Update Your Passwords Regularly

It’s critical that you use unique passwords for your devices, Wi-Fi router, and all your personal accounts. That way, someone who obtains one of your passwords won’t have access to everything else.

And change your passwords immediately when you’re alerted of any suspicious logins.

5. Use Multi-Factor Authentication

Always take advantage of the websites or services that offer multi-factor authentication. Using this security tool makes it harder for someone to hack your personal accounts because they’ll need further proof of identity when signing in.

6. Freeze Your Credit

If you don’t intend to apply for credit anytime soon, it’s best that you temporarily freeze your credit score. This will help prevent scammers from applying for credit in your name.

7. Use a VPN When Using Public Wi-Fi and Public Computers

Using a VPN on public computers encrypts all the traffic coming to and from your device. This allows you to browse securely and helps keep identity thieves out.

8. Avoid Shady and Pirated Software

Pirated Content logo

Pirated software is one of the most popular methods for delivering malware. These shady software programs can harvest your sensitive information or even harm your device. So avoid pirated apps and only download your software programs from reliable sites.

Identity Theft Warning Signs to Look Out For

If you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft, here are some warning signs to look out for.

1. Unexpected Bank or Credit Card Charges

Do you often see bank notifications about purchases you’ve never made? This could be an identity thief who has gained access to your financial accounts.

2. Random Login Alerts for the Services You Use

Some services send you alerts when you log into your accounts. But if you get these alerts randomly, that could be a sign that someone has acquired your login credentials. If you get multi-factor authentication codes, that means someone has tried to get into an account; you need to independently sign in and change your login details.

3. Collection Agencies Contacting You

If you get calls about debts you didn’t know about or apply for, someone might have taken them in your name. This will reflect in your credit report and might end up affecting your credit score in the long run.

Protect Yourself From Cybercriminals

If you suspect that you’re a victim of identity theft, you need to act immediately. But don’t panic. That’s when mistakes are made. The first step you could take would be to report the identity theft incident to the affected organizations, such as your bank.

Meanwhile, you should also update all your passwords to prevent hackers from easily gaining access to your accounts. And if you want to be even safer, consider looking for some of the best identity theft protection and monitoring services.

identity theft monitoring 2021 featured

The 5 Best Identity Theft Protection & Monitoring Services of 2021

Looking for a way to monitor and protect your data from identity theft? Here are the best five services of 2021.

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