The risk of identity theft has increased dramatically in the past year. The main reason? The pandemic has both forced and encouraged more people to work from home than ever before.
This has made working professionals more vulnerable to identity thieves and cybercriminals because most people don’t have the same level of protection and computer security in place in their homes that they do at their offices.
According to Consumer Affairs, “from 2019 to 2020, the U.S. experienced a 311% increase in victims, with a total payout of $350 million.”
To avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, you need to understand what factors put you most at risk.
Here are seven risk factors that might make you a more likely target to criminals:
You Use the Same Passwords Across Websites and Accounts
One of the most common habits that increases your risk of identity theft is using the same passwords across different websites and accounts.
Comparitech shared the results of a Google survey about the password habits of Americans, which found that “13 percent of people reuse the same password across all accounts, and a further 52 percent use the same one for multiple (but not all) online accounts. Only 35 percent use a different password for every account.”
In addition to sharing passwords across sites, many people use incredibly simple or easy-to-crack passwords to protect some of their most sensitive and important personal information.
According to the same Google survey, 24% of Americans have used one of the following passwords before: abc123, Password, 123456, Iloveyou, 111111, Qwerty, Admin, Welcome.
The survey also found that only 34% of people regularly change the passwords they create.
Reduce the risk: Use a tool like LastPass or 1Password, which can help you generate and manage secure passwords for every site or account that requires you to use a password to log in. These services will also tell you when a password has been used on multiple websites and help you create unique passwords for each one.
You Share Too Much About Yourself on Social Media
If you’re an over-sharer on social media, you are more likely to fall victim to identity theft. That’s because criminals use the information you share on social media to gain access to your accounts.
How do they do that? In two ways:
1. By using the information on your social media profiles—like your birthday, your hometown, or the name of your pet—to guess the answers to the security questions you have in place to protect your accounts.
2. By using the information on your social media profiles to guess your passwords themselves.
Consider these data points, shared again in the Google survey mentioned earlier in this article:
59% of U.S. adults have used a name or a birthday as their password
33% have used the name of a pet before
22% have used their own name in passwords
14% have created passwords using the name of a child
Criminals will also use the information you share on social media to try to phish for information from you in an attempt to steal your identity. They may use the name of a friend or family member in an email or text message to convince you to give them the information they need to steal your identity. Or they may be so bold as to use the same information about your friends or family members when talking to you on the phone.
Reduce the risk: Don’t share so much personal information about yourself on social media. Scan through your accounts and see what information is readily available to people. Delete or hide what’s not necessary. Take a look at your privacy settings to ensure your information is only accessible by friends, family members, and people you know.
You’re in a High-Risk Age Group
Although nearly everyone is at risk, criminals tend to focus on two particular age groups when attempting to steal identities.
The first age group, surprisingly enough, is children. Why are children targeted by identity thieves? One big reason is because identity theft activity can go largely undetected for some time. A child is not trying to obtain a car loan, buy a home, or apply for financial aid for college. Because of this, criminals will attempt to steal the identity of children and use their social security numbers to open fraudulent accounts and take advantage of time.
The other age group is elderly people. What makes the elderly more vulnerable than others? They tend to be less tech-savvy and more unaware of common phishing attempts.
According to the AARP, “of the victims who filed claims of cybercrimes in 2020, 105,301 of them were over the age of 60.”
The pandemic seemingly made the situation worse for elderly people, because it required them to rely on technology more than ever to talk to doctors, access their bank accounts, and manage their investments.
According to the FBI, people who were 50 and older lost a staggering $1.8 billion in 2020 alone to cybercriminals.
Reduce the risk: Help your aging parents understand common phishing attempts and spend time monitoring their accounts, looking through their mail, and talking to them about any unusual phone calls they’ve received. Read our article on how to protect your aging parents from cybercriminals for more help.
You Aren’t Familiar With Common Phishing Scams
If you aren’t familiar with common phishing scams, you’re putting yourself at risk for falling victim to an identity theft criminal.
In their 2019 Report on Internet Crime, the FBI defines phishing as “unsolicited email, text messages, and telephone calls purportedly from a legitimate company requesting personal, financial, and/or login credentials.”
Criminals perform phishing attacks using emails, text messages, and phone calls.
The goal of a phishing scam is to convince you to provide personal information about yourself to a criminal. They in turn use that information to gain access to your accounts, or open fraudulent accounts using your name or social security number.
Reduce the Risk: Read a recent blog post from us to learn more about phishing scams and how to protect yourself.
You Don’t Review Your Bank and Credit Card Statements
Not paying attention to credit card and bank statements can also put you at risk for identity theft. When criminals attempt to access your credit card or bank account, they aren’t always withdrawing huge amounts of money—instead, they’re processing micro-transactions that are small enough to go undetected by account owners who aren’t paying attention.
These amounts—anywhere from a few cents to $10 are also small enough that they can bypass the fraud detection tools banks have in place to protect their customers.
Reduce the Risk: Review your bank statements regularly and make sure you recognize every charge listed. Don’t rely solely on your bank to detect fraudulent transactions—it’s up to you to recognize them and act quickly when you find them.
Identity theft is a prevalent problem in the U.S. By understanding the risk factors, you can protect yourself from criminals and keep your personal information and money safe.
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