In some movies, identity theft is depicted as someone completely assuming the identity of another person, dropping into their life, and beginning to live as the person that they have stolen the identity of. In the real world, identity theft is a lot less dramatic than that, but it can often feel no less damaging if it happens to you.
Identity theft has a long and colorful history, and it takes on many, many different forms. From as early as the 18th century, it was used in election fraud, and teenagers all over the country partake in a bit of identity theft to get fake driver’s license cards to allow them to buy alcohol before they hit the legal drinking age of 21.
Identity theft is a crime with harsh punishments, but it’s becoming harder to catch identity thieves because the way criminals are stealing identities is changing thanks to the way technology is becoming an integral part of our daily lives. Using an identity theft protection service or software application can help, particularly with the more complex attempts at stealing your login information, and in turn, your identity. However, understanding the repercussions of ID theft can often prevent carelessness.
What Can Be Affected by ID Theft?
Identity theft can be far-reaching and impact you in many wants. The most common, of course, is financial, with identity thieves pilfering bank accounts, store credit, and bank credit cards, applying for finance in your name, and many other financial repercussions. Identity theft doesn’t stop there, however, and many other things can be affected. Think about everything you use an identifying document – drivers’ license, passport, social security, disability, pension funds – it’s all fair game to an identity thief.
The real problem is when these identity thefts reach into the more serious financial implications, like if an identity thief takes out a mortgage or large loan in your name, and then it ends up foreclosing, leading to you being denied these services should you ever need them in the future.
Where Is Your Identity Stolen?
Most often, in our modern world, identity theft comes in the form of our digital profiles being stolen, either by hacking, phishing, or social engineering. Here are some common attack vectors for digital identity theft.
- Email accounts. If you think about your online accounts and how many of them rely on your email if you lose or forget a password and need to reset it, it becomes clear that a bad actor gaining access to your email account can be devastating. If you use Gmail, other websites may allow you to use your Google profile to login to their services too, so if your Google account is compromised or stolen, other websites might be at risk too.
- Credit cards. To make a purchase at an e-commerce store, you often simply need a credit card number, CCV number, and expiry date. Credit card fraud is big business on the dark web because, at its core, the credit card is quite insecure. New systems like Visa’s 3D Secure and other two-factor authentications are making this more difficult, but it’s still a big problem.
- Social media accounts. Your social media account is likely trusted by those you connect with, and because it allows you to communicate by direct or instant message with your friend and family, having your social media account stolen means that the identity thief can pose as you. Not only this but just like email services, other websites allowing you to use your social media account to log in means that many other accounts can be compromised too.
- Bills and Statements. In times gone by, those looking to use your bills and statements to steal identity would need to scratch around in your trash or intercept your post to get their hands on them. Now that most companies email your bills to you getting hold of them can be accomplished by compromising your email account.
Preventing Identity Theft Online
It all starts with making sure your digital accounts are secure with strong passwords that differ for every account, particularly your email and financial institution accounts. If possible, try and avoid using social media logins for other services unless you are very confident these accounts are secure. You should also make sure you’re savvy when it comes to spotting scams and attempts to gain access to your accounts. Being aware of what a phishing email looks like and how not to fall victim to it, for example, is one of the most important things you can do.
Identity theft can be devastating and have far-reaching consequences for a very long time if you fall victim to it. Vigilance is needed to guard your personal information to prevent yourself from becoming the next victim of identity theft. Just knowing that identity theft and its effects doubled between 2016 and 2018 should give you an idea of just how big the problem is becoming and leave you more vigilant and careful, particularly when you’re dealing with personal information online.