Identity theft is on the rise – American consumers reported over 10 million cases in 2014. In 2013 the U.S. Justice Department reported that approximately 14 percent of all citizens over age 16 had experienced a form of identity theft. With the onset of online banking and investment management, online medical record access and simple, everyday shopping completed through a credit card purchase, consumers are at a high risk of identity theft each time they log onto the internet. What is online identity theft and what strategies should people use to safeguard their information from fraudulent scams?
What is Online Identity Theft?
Identity theft is the act of impersonating another for fraudulent purposes, usually to gain money. Using the name, address, phone number or social security number, criminals might clean out a bank account, apply for a loan or line of credit or commit insurance fraud. Depending on the scope of the fraudulent activity, it could take years to recover from identity theft. Besides the obvious financial implications, your credit score may be severely tarnished, your insurance benefits depleted and your legal issues just beginning, especially if the attacker created identification under your name and went on to commit other, more serious crimes. How can you protect yourself from the damages of online identity theft?
- Do Not Give Out Personal Information
When you receive an email from a company where you have an account asking you to verify any personal data, call the company directly to confirm. This is a common tactic for phishing websites, hoping to trick an unsuspecting party into freely entering their social security number or bank information. You should only have to provide a social security number when applying for a loan or line of credit.
- Scan the Website
Use applications such as the Web of Trust to scan and verify each website’s authenticity before you purchase any products – it’s a fast way to protect yourself from scams. You can also take the safe route and only conduct business at well-established, reputable web stores.
- Add Security to Your Wireless Network
An unprotected wireless network is a must, otherwise a hacker can view your entire web history, including unencrypted login data to websites that may store your credit card information. Make sure your wireless network is WPA encrypted and there is a password to gain access that only you and your family members know.
- Vary Your Password Selection
Do not use the same password for your online banking login as you do for your email. Make each individual password unique and reset them once every few months.
- Monitor Credit Report and AccountsConsumers can pull three free credit reports per year. Take note of any issues on your credit and contest them immediately if it is the result of an identity theft attack. The sooner the discrepancy is spotted the easier it is to rectify.
Don’t let your personal, financial, and insurance information fall into the wrong hands. Use these strategies to maximize your online identity theft protection today.