Posted: Guest|December 19th, 2018

Identity Theft

Identity Theft's Past, Present, and Future

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Guest Post by Hilary Bird

One of the most common fears Americans face is identity theft. Fraudsters can assume your identity and profit financially by stealing information like your social security number, bank account, tax info, and more.
 
With so many concerns about keeping information secure today, you may be wondering when online identity theft became such a prominent issue and how you can protect yourself against it. Let’s take a look at some of the different examples of online identity theft, including where it’s headed — and what you can do to avoid it.

The past: phishing and spyware

Malware and viruses have been around almost as long as computers themselves, and once the internet came into being, they had an easy way of jumping from user to user. The creation of email made it easy for thieves to reach out under the guise of other identities (acting as a representative of a bank, for instance) to request personal information from unsuspecting users.
 
This tactic, called phishing, really gained ground in the mid-1990s. It’s still around today, though as digital literacy has increased, most users know now that businesses won’t solicit personal information via email.
 
Another ’90s-era method for stealing personal info is spyware, a type of program designed to (as the name suggests) spy on its victims, often giving the sender access to personal info.

The present: data breaches and social media

Modern technology has made it easier than ever for hackers to steal identities. Rather than dumpster diving for personal information or scamming people over the phone, hackers can easily acquire millions of identities online at once, just by cracking the right database.
 
More than 16 million people were victims of identity theft in 2017 — more than ever before. This is in large part due to severe data breaches to companies like Marriott and Facebook. Even when hackers gain access to just usernames and passwords, this information can lead to other more lucrative accounts being compromised as well.
 
Social media is another prime source for thieves to snag personal information. Social media users volunteer information like names, birthdays, locations, interests, and more, all of which thieves can use for malicious purposes.

The future: how identity theft will evolve

As long as we’re conducting online transactions with personal info, the identity theft threats of the past will still be present; data breaches aren’t going away anytime soon.
 
The new frontier for identity theft is closer than you might think: the smart home. As homeowners bring more devices online, they open up new venues for thieves to steal private information.
 
Attacks against smart home tech have already begun, across all protocols. And as more devices enter the market — rolling out in more homes and businesses — that risk is likely to grow.

The fight against identity theft

As tech advances, hackers will find new ways to data mine, but that doesn’t mean you should be living in fear.
 
Hackers may be getting more tech-savvy, but so is the tech used to fight them. Encryption software is more advanced than ever, making it easy to protect your information online. And as companies increase protection, you can put your mind at ease. Especially since banks and credit companies are likely to have your back if fraud does occur.
 
While many security measures are out of your hands and up to the companies we trust with our information, you can do several things to protect yourself against identity theft.
 
1. Shop only on secure websites. E-commerce websites can be easy targets for identity theft, so be sure to shop on safe, reliable sites only, especially during the holidays when online transactions are typically at a peak.
 
2. Create strong passwords. Using personal details like birthdays and names of family members in your passwords exposes you to a higher risk of identity theft. It might seem like an inconvenience, but including a variety of characters and numbers can protect you in the long run. Invest in a password manager if needed.
 
3. Update your devices’ security offerings. Any device that can connect to the internet is a potential weak point, but tech manufacturers are often quick to patch vulnerabilities. You just have to keep the devices updated to take advantage of advancing security.
 
4. Monitor your credit. You could be a victim of identity theft for months before noticing anything fishy. Check your credit score often and keep an eye on bank and credit card statements.
 
Whether you’ve experienced identity theft or not, it’s important to be prepared. By taking advantage of  technology and keeping your information secure, you can navigate digital spaces and smart tech wisely and, more importantly, safely.

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.

 

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