Guest Post by Hilary Bird
In 2017, identity fraud hit an all-time high
, affecting 16.7 million Americans and costing victims billions of dollars in the process. Unfortunately, those numbers indicate that it’s easier than ever for thieves to steal your identity — and do a lot of damage with the information they find.
You’ll see two primary terms that describe this occurrence: identity fraud and identity theft. Most sources agree that identity fraud and identity theft are more or less the same thing, though some argue that identity fraud occurs only when stolen information is used for financial gain. Either way, the premise is that someone steals your personal information and then uses that information for a variety of purposes, from making purchases to getting government services to obtaining a loan, lease, or utility in your name.
Keep reading to learn more about common identity theft types, as well as a few less-common areas where you might be vulnerable.
Common types of identity fraud
Your personal information (credit card numbers, social security number, birth date, address, driver’s license number, etc) can be compromised in many ways. These are some of the most common:
- Data breaches—Someone hacks into a database (Equifax, Target, etc.) and steals information.
- Stolen wallets—By stealing a full wallet, criminals can gain physical access to your credit cards, driver’s license, and more.
- Skimming ATMs—A thief attaches a device to the card scanner and it steals your information when you withdraw money.
- Buying personal information from a third party—Cybercriminals can trade and sell personal information they’ve acquired.
- Phishing—A thief tries to get your sensitive information by posing as a reputable person or company via email or phone.
But while these types of identity theft are more common, they’re far from the only types out there.
Unique ways your identity could be compromised
As security measures
against common threats improve, thieves are getting more creative, which means you need to be more aware of other places that your personal information might be at risk. Here are three potential weak spots you might not have considered:
1. Unsecured public Wi-Fi
—You’ve probably connected to free Wi-Fi when out and about, or you might have found a neighbor with a network that you can just jump on when you’re at home. But if a network doesn’t require a password, chances are it’s unsecured, meaning there is no authentication required to use the connection, and they are very easy to hack. Once a hacker gets into the network, they can easily access any information that you put out there (if you access PayPal, your bank account, buy something, etc.). Even if you’re just jumping on to watch a quick video, you’d have to be connected for nearly 30 seconds
while it downloaded—plenty of time for someone to access your device
The best way to avoid this is to get a secured hotspot to connect to when you aren’t home and always invest in a dedicated network for when you are home. Home internet is more affordable than ever, and it will be worth a small monthly fee to keep your information safe.
2. Social media—Nearly everyone has a Facebook profile or an Instagram account, and thieves can take advantage of the information shared there. Hackers can find not only essential personal information like names and birth dates, but also interests, hobbies, and relationship information, all of which could help a thief guess passwords and security questions for other accounts. Some social media sites even allow purchasing, meaning your credit card info could be stored there.
To combat this type of identity fraud, be careful what you share and whom you interact with on social media. And if you can enable additional security measures like two-factor authentication on your accounts, do so.
3. Open houses or vacation rentals—Anyone welcoming strangers into their home might be at risk. Would-be thieves could actually visit an open house posing as a potential home buyer and go through drawers, looking for information. If you rent out your personal home on Airbnb, that risk is even more present, as you won’t even be in the home. There’s also a risk that mail containing sensitive information will be delivered while the house is being rented out.
If you anticipate having any visitors to your home in a situation where you won’t be able to attend to them, make sure you lock up any important information. And in an Airbnb situation, contact the post office to hold your mail
for the duration of your guests’ stay.
The Bottom Line
The good news is that even as identity fraud and theft grows, more people are becoming more aware of the risks and banks are getting better at tracking abnormal transactions. By thinking outside the box and taking a few more steps to protect your information, you can avoid becoming a victim of identity theft yourself.
Hilary Bird is a digital journalist who writes about the things that fascinate her the most: relationships, technology, and how they impact each other. As more people become more reliant on their tech devices, Hilary wants to help them stay safe and understand how these devices will reshape the way we communicate.