When someone deliberately misuses your identity for any purpose, it amounts to identity theft. Identity theft is a crime. A thief can obtain and use your personal information without your permission and without you even knowing that your identity has been stolen. The thief may or may not masquerade as you. The thief may also use your personal information to conceal their own true identity. A thief may incur debts in your name and also commit other heinous crimes. Identity theft is predominantly financial in nature but there are other misuses and crimes as well.
A common example of identity theft is credit card misuse. Someone may get hold of your credit card and might make purchases, online or offline or both. The same applies to debit cards. Identity theft can have far-reaching consequences for the victims, especially if they are unable to prove their innocence. Identity theft usually pertains to name, social security number, date of birth, credit card and debit card information, banking details, pins and passwords, emails and social media accounts, fingerprints, electronic signatures and different types of identifications including driver’s license and passport. Identity theft is usually categorized as criminal, financial, cloning and medical. Child identity theft is also a distinct category, segregating it from adult victims.
Identity theft can lead to severe financial losses. Criminals can pin the blame of their crimes upon someone whose identity they may use at the scene. Identity theft aids terrorism, illegal immigration, espionage and phishing among others. Identity theft has also facilitated misuse of health insurance and obtaining benefits or receiving welfare.
Offline and Online Identity Theft
There are two distinct approaches to identity theft protection. One is offline and the other is online. Both are equally importance. Offline identity theft protection is relatively simple. You should not allow others to have access to your proofs of identification, credit cards, debit cards, checks, banking information and private details such as social security number. You should not pass on these hard copies to anyone. Keep all your sensitive documents locked in a safe. You may choose a safe at your bank.
Don’t have the social security card on you at all times or in your wallet. Do not carry any document that you don’t need to have on you all the time. You should not share your pins and passwords. The only way to ensure effective offline identity theft protection is to keep your private life confined to your dearest ones. It is better not to provide kids access to your personal documents. The fewer people know where you keep all your crucial files and documents, cards and ids, the better it is for you.
Online identity theft protection is a bit more daunting. This is simply because not everyone understands the plethora of risks. Offline identity theft involves physical access and in many instances the perpetrators are somehow linked to the victims. Online identity theft does not require physical access and one does not have to be related to the victim in anyway. Physical theft requires the perpetrator to be present or at least have a network that would obtain the personal information. Digital theft can be carried out by someone sitting half way around the world and apparently having no footprint or fingerprint whatsoever.
How to Prevent Identity Theft
Online identity theft protection is not impossible. You would have to be meticulous about everything you do online. Always protect yourself against phishing attacks. These are basically online baits wherein you are lured into believing something and that propels you to share your personal information. Beware of individuals or companies masquerading as stores, pretending to be banks or claiming to be representing government agencies. You may receive such baits in your email, on the phone or normal mail. Just don’t respond to such probes. No legitimate company has a shady way of asking for your personal information. Government agencies already have the information they need to know about you. They will not call you or send you an email to obtain any crucial detail.
Do not share any personal information online, with anyone. Keep your date of birth and address, information pertaining to academic qualification or education and profession secret on social networks and social media sites. Do not share your contact information, be it landline or mobile. Don’t share your email address with anyone asking for it randomly, especially if you do not know that person or entity. Sharing an email may seem harmless but identity thieves, especially those who are hackers and specialize in phishing, will use various means to obtain bits and pieces of your personal details and then they would put everything together. They will make a profile of yours and try to gauge the information they don’t have.
Always use strong passwords, don’t share them, keep changing them from time to time and never use the same password for multiple accounts, regardless of what service it is. Do not keep your passwords saved on a notepad or written down somewhere. Try to memorize all your passwords. Always hide passwords and do not let browsers save your login credentials. Be equally cautious with your login username. Don’t give out any personal details on social networks or social media sites. Don’t share the names of your parents or children. It is best not to share anything that is not necessary. Giving out too many personal details would only make the job of identity thieves easier.
Identity theft protection would be impossible if you don’t protect all your electrical and electronic systems that are connected to the internet. Use quality antivirus, antispyware, antimalware and anti-adware on your desktop, laptop, tablet and phone. You should get a reliable firewall. Protect your entire home network, be it broadband or wireless internet. Make sure the various software you use to secure your systems have real time technical support. Go for proactive and active security features, not reactive. Don’t fall for click baits. Avoid clicking on anything that is unnecessary or suspicious. Stay abreast of all your statements. Set up notifications when your digital accounts are accessed from different or unknown devices. Turn off all preapproved or automated transactions on cards and accounts.