9 ways thieves steal your identity – and how you can stop them

Dale Yeager Profiler Blog

Identity theft isn’t just someone stealing your credit card. Criminals are coming up with plenty of innovative ways to rip us off. New account fraud, a tactic in which someone opens an account in your name, is on the rise. So are cases of hackers using clever social engineering tactics to fool victims into giving up sensitive information.

Think it can’t happen to you? 

One recent example is a new type of identity fraud that tricks victims into thinking they’ve received a two-factor authentication text from their bank. This is especially shocking as it looks so real. 

More than 14 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2018, according to a 2019 study by Javelin Strategy & Research. Fraud is still rampant and can cause serious financial damage — not to mention all the time and effort it can take to undo it.

That’s why knowing the tactics thieves to steal your identity is essential. Avoid these pitfalls and stay protected.

1. Think before you share

We live in a generation of oversharing. People have been oversharing the details of their personal lives on reality TV shows for years.

These days, it seems everyone shares everything on social media platforms like Facebook. It’s often innocent oversharing, like your friend who “checks in” to every restaurant so you always know where she is and what she’s eating. Tap or click to secure your Facebook account once and for all.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to overshare with hackers, too. How often do you mindlessly click through buttons that say “Allow Access?” If you’re playing an online game or entering a contest, it’s understandable because you want a chance to win.

RELATED: Not sure who to turn to for tech help? I’ve got your back. 12 questions about social media you’re too embarrassed to ask.

But stop and think about what you’re doing before you give away your information. Take a second to read terms and conditions before you agree online, and be smart about what you post on the web.

You should never post your address, phone number or other personal information on social media sites. Platforms like Facebook are too careless with our privacy as it is, and you don’t want your sensitive information in the wrong hands.

2. Blast from the past

Remember MySpace accounts? From about 2005 to 2008 it was the most popular social media site in the world. Not so much anymore. Most MySpace users have moved on. Unfortunately, many forgot to delete their accounts.

Leaving old accounts active can be a security nightmare. Think about all the personal information you have just sitting there, waiting to be scavenged by cybercriminals. Let’s face it, Tom from MySpace probably isn’t keeping up with security protocols.

It’s critical to be proactive and delete all of your old accounts you no longer use.

Go through your browser, your email and wrack your brain for all the accounts and services you’ve signed up for. If you find some you’re not using, don’t just let them linger. Take the time to shut down your old accounts the right way.

This can be a lot of work, but there’s a site that can help make the process easy. It’s called AccountKiller and will help you wipe the slate clean. Tap or click here to learn more about AccountKiller and easily get rid of those old accounts.

3. Some things are supposed to stay between you and your doctor

According to a survey by security company Carbon Black, a frightening 84% of health care organizations say they have seen an increase in cyberattacks over the past year. Cybercriminals have been targeting hospitals and clinics due to the sheer amount of data these places store.

It’s not all just patient information, either. There’s also data on doctors and insurance companies. Stolen information is sold on the Dark Web and ranges mostly from forgeries to health insurance credentials.

If someone steals your identity, you could be subject to medical identity theft. This act means you might be denied coverage because someone has already used your medical insurance benefits.

How can you protect yourself? Only share your insurance card when it’s absolutely necessary, and report a missing card to your insurance company right away. Avoid posting about health issues online; the less info potential scammers know about you, the better. Check any statements or bills you receive thoroughly, and contact your insurance company or doctor if you see a charge or service you don’t recognize.

PRIVACY PRO TIP: Creepy data broker sites collect a shocking amount of information — but you can remove your data and opt out. Tap or click here to take this important privacy step.

4. Don’t be fooled

When criminals first started sending phishing emails, they were pretty easy to spot. Tons of grammatical and spelling errors tipped us off to the fact that no, our banks couldn’t possibly have sent that message.

However, today’s crooks have learned that lesson and are now sending professional looking messages. They spoof logos that look so real they can be difficult for even experts to spot. The most important rule to outsmarting phishing scams is to avoid clicking malicious links. That means you shouldn’t click on web links or open PDF attachments found in unsolicited email messages — ever.

If you need to conduct business with a company, it’s always best to type its web address directly into your browser. Never trust a link inside a message, and be wary of downloading anything you didn’t specifically ask for.

5. Before you hit ‘buy’

Shopping online is convenient and takes out all the hassles associated with heading to the mall. But have you ever heard of e-skimming? It’s when your credit card information is skimmed by a criminal while you’re buying stuff online. You don’t even know it’s happening until it’s too late.

This epidemic is getting worse as hackers have figured out how to skim credit cards from ordinary online retailers without being detected. They do this by using tricky bits of code while they lie in wait and capture your data as you’re typing it in.

Does that mean you need to stop shopping online all together? No, but you should take steps to shop smarter. For starters, check the connection to the site you’re on. Look for a lock or a URL that begins with HTTPS instead of just HTTP. If it’s not secure, find what you’re shopping for elsewhere.

Be wary of any deals that seem too good to be true. Coupons for crazy discounts or free products could be a trap to get your payment info.

You should also consider ditching your credit card all together when you buy online. Tap or click for 3 safer ways to pay online.

6. Not worth the risk

One of the biggest mistakes people make is connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Sure, everyone wants to save on data, but joining a public Wi-Fi network at the coffee shop or airport is a terrible idea.

Crooks are always trolling these public networks, watching and waiting for new victims to rip off. If you must use a public network, always use a VPN when you connect. The free ones are slow. You’re better off paying a small monthly fee for a robust VPN.

7. Stay up to date

Shelling out over a grand for the latest and greatest smartphone isn’t very economical. But if you are using a super old device that can’t support updates, you could be putting your personal data at risk.

That’s because many operating system updates come with critical security patches that keep crooks from stealing your information. Without these patches, you’re a serious contender for identity theft, which could wind up costing you more than what you’d pay for a new phone.

Keep all your devices updated to the latest software you can, and seriously consider a new smartphone if yours is several versions behind.

Not updating your OS is just one silly thing you may be doing that puts you at risk online. Tap or click for 7 security basics you really need to stop ignoring.

8. Low-tech tricks

Though criminals have sophisticated hacking tools at their disposal, there are old-fashioned spying tricks that still work to this day.

We’re talking about the common thief rummaging through your trash, hoping to find personal information you may have written down and thrown away. Take the time to shred any sensitive documents before carelessly throwing them in the trash. This includes bank statements, financial documents, medical bills and anything else with identifying information.

Also, be careful of what you say out loud. Eavesdroppers might be listening in if you’re in public making a payment over the phone and reading your credit card information out loud.

When in doubt, assume someone is watching or listening and guard your info accordingly.

9. Threats at home, too

It’s sad I have to mention this, but it’s not just hackers who can steal your identity. It could be a family member or friend.

That’s why it’s essential to keep passwords and important documents in a safe place. Don’t just leave things with information like Social Security numbers and banking information sitting around the house.

Keep sensitive documents locked in a drawer, cabinet or safe deposit box. Stop writing down passwords and login info, and store or shred financial statements as soon they arrive in the mail.

There was a time when our house phones would ring off the hook with annoying, unknown and unwanted calls. The immediate reaction would be to use *69 to trace where the call originated from.

Today, these annoying messages are coming in the form of emails. Each of these messages leads down the same road, which ends with a phishing scam or some sketchy request to reveal your personal data.

If you really want to check the credibility or authenticity of an email, you’ll need to dig deeper and establish where the email originated from — a virtual *69 if you will.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

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