Identity theft can be devastating, and painfully hard to resolve. It can have negative effects on your credit rating. It could result in you being arrested for an open warrant on charges for a crime committed by the person who is using your identity. Identity theft occurs in different ways. Sometimes is is part of an online scam that may start with a phishing email, and loss of user credentials and other personal information through a web form. It may happen as part of a social engineering exploit starting with a phone call or a letter. It can happen when a waiter double swipes your credit card (once for the restaurant bill, once for the credit card thief.) Or it could be a blend of these tactics. You may have been targeted as a high net-worth individual, or you may just have been an unlucky victim of opportunity.
How can you tell if your identity has been stolen?
- You have been denied a recent application for a loan or credit, and this has not happened in the past.
- Your credit score has suddenly dropped.
- There are unexpected charges on credit card bills.
- You are no longer getting bills from certain creditors because the ID thief filed a change of address with them. This will prevent you for seeing unusual or unauthorized charges.
- Collection calls for bills, accounts, loans, or services that you do not recognize or use.
- Accounts appearing on your credit report that are not ones you recognize.
The best ways to avoid becoming an identity theft victim are:
- Use provided security features for online accounts, especially two-factor authentication.
- Create longer passwords and do not use them on more than one site. Create new passwords if you are guilty of this poor practice.
- Use a password manager such as LastPass to keep track of all these new longer passwords.
- Go to Have I Been Pwned to see if any of your account information has been part of a larger breach, and may be for sale on the Dark Web.
- Make sure you are using anti-virus and anti-malware software and a software firewall, and that your software performs real-time scanning, or at least daily scheduled scanning.
- Do business with reputable companies. The Internet makes it easy to create a business presence online. It is trivial to create a realistic website to support scams or criminal operations.
- Check privacy policies of vendors you use, and find out if they share or sell your information with other companies.
- Be careful what you share online, especially on social sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
- Watch your account activity for unusual charges or activity. Set up automated purchase alerts when your creditor provides that service.
- Review your credit reports annually. The three credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They are required to provide this to you for free once a year. A smart plan is to review a different bureau every 4 months.
This is the first of two articles about ID theft. Be sure to return Wednesday for the exciting new solution.