Written by Alayna Okerlund | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Alayna Okerlund is a finance-focused Senior Content Strategist at BestCompany.com. Over the past three years, Alayna's finance-related research has helped readers feel more financially confident. She has worked with several reputable experts and has provided content for a variety of well-known publications like Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Lifehacker, and more.
Especially in recent years, the term "hacker" has gained a lot of notoriety and tends to refer to the world's greatest technologically-based criminals. Moderns hackers are often labeled as people who intentionally access information/data without authorization through technological means. Identity theft typically comes into play after a hacker obtains the data or information they were targeting. The stolen data is taken to create a fake identity, and then often used for the hacker's own purposes or personal financial gain. Although large corporations and organizations are usually shown as the targets of cyber attacks, they aren't the only ones who should be preparing for security breaches.
What the Past Has Shown
The rise of identity theft and other cyber-related threats has become fairly obvious as security breaches have affected anywhere from millions to billions of people each year. According to USA Today, the top five largest security breaches include the following:
- December 2016 Yahoo! breach (affected 1 billion people)
- September 2016 Yahoo! breach (affected 500 million people)
- May 2016 MySpace breach (360 million affected)
- May 2014 eBay breach (145 million affected)
- September 2017 Equifax breach (affected 143 million people)
The Equifax breach, although not as large as some breaches, was one of the most frightening identity theft cases in history. Everything from names to social security numbers to birth dates, addresses, credit card information, and even driver's license numbers were exposed. Although many people were affected, only a few actually knew for sure if they were victims or not. The unknown seemed to haunt many people as they struggled to learn if their accounts were secure or not. All of these past breaches have proven that anyone can become a victim and security should be made a priority.
What the Experts Say
Identity theft and scam prevention expert, Rob Douglas explained why people should be taking necessary precautions regarding their personal security:
"we are all being targeted daily by those who seek to steal our personally identifiable information (PII) or directly steal our money by means of cyber crime. Almost every day, Americans receive an email or a text message or other form of electronic communication (e.g. clicking on a seemingly innocent advertisement on a website that is infected with malvertising) that has the potential to do serious harm if not recognized for the threat contained within the communication."
Douglas warned that everyone is susceptible to hackers, which makes the hacker-related threat even more of an unfortunate reality. He explained that "as for hacking as a specific subset of security threats, even with the best virus/malware protection and cybersecurity practices, we are all under constant barrage from those seeking to overcome our defenses. Bottom line: The threats are real and they are never-ending.”
What You Can Do
Identity theft is a difficult crime to overcome, however there are a few things you can do to enhance your security. Douglas recommends four specific key actions that people can do to lessen their vulnerability to this type of crime:
- Use the technology you already have
"Be sure to use the security technology embedded in your operating systems (be sure those programs are up to date)."
- Avoid deceptive emails
"Never click on links or attachments in emails that you aren't 100 percent certain of who transmitted the email (and even then, steer clear of emails forwarded by friends and family members as they may have been tricked or their account hijacked)."
- Create unique passwords
"Use individual, never-used-before passwords/passphrases for web-based accounts that contain personal, financial, or medical information (this includes all email accounts); use two-factor authentication."
- Monitor your accounts
"Review all critical accounts for signs of fraud on at least a monthly basis."
Resources You Can Use
Although you can increase your security by performing the previously recommended actions, you are still largely at risk if you lack professional aid. Identity theft companies are often the smart way to go when it comes to protecting your identity. Reliable identity theft companies offer constant monitoring, instant notifications, recovery options, etc. Having this type of service can help you be aware of potential threats and allows you to have a peace of mind when it comes to your identity protection. Finding the right identity theft company may prove difficult, however there are trustworthy online resources that can help you locate the company that best fits your identity protection needs.