Identity theft and privacy – what happens when your data is stolen?
Scams and frauds in Europe caused a €24 billion loss in the last two years while over half of Europe’s citizens have experienced at least one type of fraud. Identity theft is rising rapidly because of data breaches. There are a lot of ways for identity thieves to access your personal details and use it. In this blog post we describe what they can do, how you can protect yourself against identity thieves and how you can detect you’ve been a victim of privacy hacks.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft happens when criminals obtain your personal or financial information to commit fraud, such as making unauthorized transactions or purchases. Criminals can obtain your data in a lot of different ways:
- They use the information you gave away yourself, for example when they overhear you reading out your credit card number on the phone;
- They buy your information on the dark web after it has been exposed in a data breach;
- They steal your information some other way.
Identity theft can become a disastrous crime.
Data theft is big business for criminals. In the last two years, every one in five Europeans has been a victim of identity fraud. Credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft. Though financial theft is the most common type of fraud, there are many other things identity thieves can do with your personal information, like committing tax identity theft, medical identity theft or employment identity theft for example. That means they can use your information to:
- Open new credit cards or other lines of credit using your identifying information.
- Make unauthorized purchases using your existing credit and debit cards.
- Use your Social Security number to file a tax return, claim your refund or claim your benefits.
- Use your health insurance to get medical care.
- Pass an employment background check, rent an apartment, or even commit a crime in your name.
Protecting yourself against identity theft
How to protect your information and your identity?
Calls and emails
Nearly half of all identity theft attacks and scams in Europe happened by email. Watch out for “phishing” scams where identity thieves request personal information. They pretend to be a legitimate entity to request personal information. Ignore these unsolicited emails, links, pop-up windows, texts, or phone calls.
Protect your computer and phone
Learn how to protect your computer, your information, and your online files. Consider using a password manager and turn on two-factor authentication for your online accounts.
Lock your laptop and phones. Keep all software updated. Turn on automatic updates for all software, including antivirus programs. Don’t connect automatically to public WiFi. Consider using a VPN when in a public area. Cover the camera on your laptop to prevent hackers from watching and recording you. Encrypt your devices.
There are a couple of themes here.
Passwords. A fingerprint is the best way to secure you smartphone. Alternatively you can use a code of at least six digits as your smartphone password. Fewer that six digits are easier to guess and crack. Never re-use a password. Best advice is to use a multi-factor authentication tool, like LastPass for generating a unique password for each account.
Behaviour. Log out after each session. Only send personal information online through fully encrypted websites (that start with https) or apps. Be aware of the fact that websites, advertisers, and others can track your online activity on your computer.
Data storage. Make sure all your hard disks whether it is on your laptop, an external drive or a smartphone, always have disk encryption enabled. When a device is stolen or lost, this gives a bit of comfort that it is not easy to retrieve the data.
Use credit cards instead of debit cards for all online and in-person purchases if possible. When you use a credit card, you have more legal protections against fraud.
Don’t show information on your social media accounts that is used to verify your identity, even if you have a private account. Check the privacy settings on your mobile device to control the access that different apps have to your personal information, including location, personal contacts, photos, calendar, and health data. Check the privacy and other settings on your mobile devices and in your social media accounts to control tools such as face recognition, location history, and ad preferences.
Detect identity theft as soon as possible
How can you detect if you’ve been victim of identity theft?
- Check your monthly statements for unauthorized charges. Be suspicious of phone calls about surprise debts.
- Sign up to receive notifications of account activity and changes to account information.
- Sign up for online accounts with your health care and insurance providers to monitor any fraudulent services on your statements.
- Be alert to notices about a tax return already filed, additional taxes you owe, refund offsets, collection for a year you didn’t file, or records showing income from an employer for whom you did not work.
- Check if your online accounts have been hacked. Skopos can help you to prevent cybercrime before it happens.
If you became of victim of identity fraud, respond!
It is important to report identity theft as soon as you detect it. It is a frightening experience and you should not get paralyzed by fear, but take the following steps of action:
- Report to your local law enforcement authority. They can provide you with a written report.
- Contact the providers of your hacked accounts
- Check your financial statements (incoming mail, phone bills, credit card bills, and bank statements, for example) for other signs of identity theft.
- Get in contact with Skopos to see what we can do for you.