Ready for some numbers? In 2019, 20.33% of 3.2 million fraud cases reported to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) were accounted for identity theft. 1 That’s 6.4 million cases! Identity fraud hits a new victim every two seconds, and it comes to no surprise that Americans fear identity theft more than murder 2. And how wouldn’t we fear it so much? Is there anything we don’t do online these days? Our information is spread over the internet amongst websites, logins, and apps that access our personal information. There were 4.1 billion records breached in 20193, and it’s become more accessible to obtain credit card information online rather than stealing someone’s purse.
As if 2020 isn’t scary enough, COVID-19 has moved a large scale of work, studies, and personal errands to be done from home, putting our personally identifiable information (PII) at a higher risk.
The good news (yes, there is also good news!) is that being aware of how it happens and taking safety measures can help prevent most online identity thefts. Really!
How online identity theft happens and what can be done to prevent it:
- Malicious Extensions: Malicious extensions can reach our device in several ways: They can disguise themselves as legitimate services such as PDF converters or weather apps. You could also get a series of popups that, without notice, will lead you to install a malicious extension that will give away all of your information. Malicious extensions can alter your browser settings by virtually accessing your browsing activity and even performing actions on your behalf. Scan your device for malicious extensions and remove them asap.
- Phishing Emails: Probably one of the better-known methods that cybercriminals use. Many people think they will be able to identify a phishing email if they get one, but in fact, phishing emails have evolved and become much harder to set apart from legitimate emails. Cybercriminals can send emails posing as financial institutes, delivery companies, and other services that can easily trick victims into giving away their PII with a couple of clicks. Here are 2 ways to spot nearly any phishing scams.
- Browser Hijacking: This occurs when your browser’s settings have been altered without your knowledge. Besides being incredibly frustrating, this is a way to piggyback your browsing activity, and cybercriminals can collect PII that you may type into the website. Learn more about browser hijacking and how to stop it from happening..
- Harmful Websites: In just one hour, the average user goes through dozens of different websites by clicking on popups, emails, social media, search results, ads, and more. A Harmful site can try to scam you out of your money, private information, or sensitive account logins. The best way to avoid sites like this is to use a browser safety tool like Guardio that will block out all harmful sites.
- Weak passwords: You don’t have to answer out loud, but honestly, how many logins of yours have the same password? Using the same password for both social, personal, and financial accounts can leave you extremely vulnerable. Aim for unique, strong passwords for your different accounts. See tips here for creating a unique and strong password.