What is identity theft?
Identity theft is a serious crime wherein one assumes someone else’s identity to perform fraudulent activities ranging from syphoning money from the victim’s bank account to terrorism. Simple examples of identity theft are someone else using your personally identifiable information such as photographs, name etc. to operate their fake account assuming your identity.
FTC (Federal Trade Commission) received over 2.1 million consumer fraud complaints last year. Interestingly, one of the studies came out with statistics that only 0.14% of the identity theft crimes result in prosecution as it is extremely hard to crack identity theft crimes.
Social engineering tactics entice even the smartest individuals to be the victims of identity theft scams. With our whole of the personal details residing in the public domain such as Facebook, Instagram etc. it isn’t hard for the cybercriminals to assume the identity of someone else quite easily. Opening unsolicited emails, answering spam calls, weak passwords, incorrect privacy settings on social sites etc. are the means of exposing one to identity thefts.
The good news is that we can certainly prevent identity thefts and save ourselves from cyber-attacks. Few tips below for preventing identity theft:
1. Strong passwords: Weak passwords are one of the easiest ways to hack your account. There are tools available to retrieve your weak passwords in just a few seconds. Once a hacker has access to your account, they have hijacked your account and have all the freedom to perform whatever they want to without your permission. However, there are simple tactics to set up a strong password as well as remember them. I will cover this on a separate blog.
2. Don’t share sensitive information: Apart from Government agencies, Banks, and your employer, no one generally needs your personal information (PI) such as your date of birth, passport number, Permanent Account Number (PAN) or any other PI. That too these organizations need such information only once during your account set up. If someone else asks for such information, it is a red flag. Even if an agency seems trustworthy, there are circumstances, where they get compromised by a hacker or tend to share your information with a third party, which might put your personal information at risk. The moment your information goes out, it is not in your control! For example, your date of birth could be used by your bank to verify your identity when changing the password for your bank’s online tool. Moment, such information lands in the hands of hackers, they control your bank account. Hence, don’t share your personal information as much as possible. Many times some of this information input could be optional. If someone asks for these, question them as to why would they need such sensitive information.
3. Don’t click suspicious links: There are WhatsApp forwards, emails, links on the internet that entice users in clicking unknown links. There are links promising rewards by finishing an easy quiz or any other disproportionate promises. Remember there is no “free lunch” out there! The moment you click a suspicious link, a hacker might be able to inject malware or collect your identity information. Once, they intrude on your space, you lose control and you are at mercy of a hacker!
4. Don’t open suspicious emails: Similar to suspicious links, emails from an unknown sender is equally dangerous. Many times these emails are just a trap for you to provide your sensitive information. Example traps are emails telling you that you have won a million-dollar lottery you have never purchased or a high paying job you have never applied for. So, don’t just open an email you never anticipated.
5. Destroy paper wastes containing sensitive information: Documents you receive via postal service or courier might contain sensitive personal information such as your date of birth, passport number, bank account details etc. Shred them or destroy them so that the data are not available to dumpster divers.
Prevention is better than cure. But, prevention requires us to take a few simple steps for protecting our interests. In the name of convenience, we take several shortcuts such as setting up an extremely simple password (such as your kid’s name or a well-known word in the dictionary), which will cost us a fortune. Cybercriminals know basic human weaknesses; for example, all of us are very much excited to take a few action steps we are asked to follow when someone says that we have won a free gift without any effort. Remember, no one in the world is so kind enough to ask you to be the claimant of a million-dollar lottery when they can very well claim the money themselves! Using our psychological weaknesses, they rob us of years of hard work and mental peace. Thus, don’t get entrapped; be alert and be Cybersafe!