A decade ago, identity theft was all the rage. News outlets — not just tech blogs but national and international reporters — produced story after story of ways that crooks could easily pilfer identifying information like social security numbers, addresses, maiden names and the like to open or abuse credit accounts. Consumers were given an endless list of tips and tricks for keeping their information away from prying eyes.
These days: not so much. Though identity theft remains a prevalent crime, few people are aware of how often identity theft occurs and why. If you want to keep your personal information personal, you should be on the lookout for the following types of attack:
Canvassing Your Neighborhoods
It usually isn’t worth an identity thief’s time to steal a poor identity with bad credit. In the past, a common practice was for thieves to drive around until they found a wealthy neighborhood; then, they would walk around the neighborhood, pilfering important-looking envelopes from mailboxes in the hopes of stumbling upon bank account numbers or other private information.
Identity thieves still do this — but with some high-tech help from websites like Zillow, Redfin and Google Maps. For the sake of your privacy, you should take ownership of your home on these sites and blur or delete any connected photos. You should also consider purchasing a mailbox with a lock.
Phishing Your Email and Social Media
Phishing messages are delivered through email and social media and try to seem from a legitimate source, like your bank or your aunt. Often, they will direct you to a website that requests for login credentials, or the message itself might ask for personal information like your social security number, mother’s maiden name, etc. Using this information, cyber-attackers can steal your identity.
You should be skeptical of every message you receive on the web, looking for poor spelling or bad grammar. You should avoid clicking on any links contained in messages, instead navigating yourself to related websites. At the very least, you should call the supposed sender of the message, like your bank or your aunt, and talk to them about whether the message is legitimate.
Spreading Malware and Spyware
When you think of home cybersecurity in 2020, you should primarily think of protection from malware. Though malware takes various forms, many of them are designed to track your digital activities and log any potentially valuable information, like passwords, payment numbers and the like. If you aren’t careful, spyware can linger in the background of your devices for weeks or even years, collecting all sorts of sensitive data.
Without a doubt, the best method of limiting data loss through malware is to install some sort of security on your device. The best solutions are paid antivirus programs from recognizable names in cybersecurity, like Trend Micro or Norton.
Watching Your Shopping Cart
Online shopping has shifted from a curiosity to a necessity; in 2020, annual online sales are projected to surpass $4.5 trillion. Unfortunately, not all online stores have the same security. If you aren’t careful, you could enter your payment information into a fake or corrupted shopping cart, sending your sensitive data directly into cybercriminals’ hands without even knowing it.
This is why it is a good idea to use a service like Trend Micro ID Security, which tracks your personal data around the web and ensures it doesn’t fall into enemy hands. Because it is so easy to make mistakes with your data, you need an automated service to help you stay safe.
Monitoring Your Credit
It isn’t too difficult for identity thieves to open credit-monitoring accounts with credit bureaus and financial services, Equifax, Experian, FICO and others. Once they do, they can find credit cards and accounts you have forgotten about, like an old Target card you lost behind your dresser. Thieves will have new cards issued to their address and rack up insane charges on them.
You should be diligent about monitoring your own credit, checking your credit report frequently so you can identify any inauthentic change. You should also be careful to close any accounts you don’t often use or no longer benefit from.
Claiming Your Tax Refund
Every tax season, you might hope and pray that someone else will do your taxes — but if you aren’t careful, your wish might come true. Some identity thieves have taken to using free tax software like Free File and submitting returns for total strangers with the intention of receiving their tax return. It is a bigger problem for the IRS than you might suspect.
To reduce this kind of theft, you should try to get your taxes done as early as possible. You might also consider choosing not to over-withhold on your paycheck in the first place, which will keep more of your own money in your pocket instead of the government’s.
Identity theft still occurs, even if it isn’t dominating headlines. You need to be more careful with your data today than ever before, and that means using reliable security tools and behaving responsibly both in life and online.