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Modern Menace: Why Identity Theft Protection Is a Must

Based on all the zombies, man-eating bears, and alien abductions you see in movies, these threats might seem to be worthy of your fear and apprehension. But would you like to know what’s truly scary? Take note, because it’s something likely to affect every last one of us at some point in our lives: identity theft. It is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world today, with billions of dollars in losses reported each year.


How Identity Theft Occurs


You could easily, unknowingly, provide your own personally identifiable information to criminals who seek to either directly steal money out of your accounts or create accounts using your data and run up debt on those accounts, with no intention of making payments on them.


Cybercriminals may trick you into providing your sensitive information by impersonating a bank you do business with, then directing you to a legit-looking website designed to capture your information and funnel it to thieves. You could click on a link in an email, text, or website – triggering the download of malware onto your phone or computer, which then captures and transmits your data to others. Criminals could also gather the personal information you share publicly on social media profiles, which can then be used to answer security questions on your accounts.


Then, too, and through no fault of your own, thieves may gain access to your data by hacking the company databases of entities already in possession of your data. These types of data breaches are on the rise, and can lead to your information being sold on the dark web.


Ill-intentioned folks could also obtain your information by stealing your credit cards or your mail (looking for checks or bank statements) – or via an RFID skimming device. The latter are commonly placed on cash machines or gas station pumps. They may also simply be held in close proximity to your wallet or purse to secretly scan and capture your credit card data; this is used on credit cards equipped for contactless payment.


What Info Do Identity Thieves Want?


In order to steal your data and your money, identity thieves often look for the following types of sensitive personal information:


  • Social security number (SSN)
  • Credit card numbers
  • Bank account numbers, other account details – e.g., login credentials
  • Driver’s license number
  • Birthdate
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Home address
  • Fingerprints or other biometric data
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Employment information
  • Educational records


Identity Theft: a Growing Threat


Identity theft is one of the biggest threats to nearly everyone in the U.S. And it’s no joke. Even children are susceptible to having their SSNs stolen, and a new identity created by thieves using the SSN – then used, often for years, before being discovered.


The biggest factors contributing to the rise of identity theft fraud include the prevalence of online data, poor online security practices, and technological advances enabling criminals to steal in evermore creative ways.


Electronic Data Storage


As much of society continues to move toward a preference for electronic access to records, the more likely your personal data will remain in multiple databases online and in the cloud. And, as more of this sensitive data is stored online, the more likely criminals will want to access it for their own nefarious purposes.


Here are just a few examples of the organizations likely to have your sensitive personal information among their records:


  • Banks, credit unions, investment firms
  • Retailers and e-commerce websites
  • Healthcare providers and insurers
  • Government agencies
  • Educational institutions
  • Social media platforms
  • Travel agencies, hotels, airlines, rental car agencies


Online Banking & Shopping


Many people today pay their bills and conduct all financial interactions online – more so than ever before. Indeed, it appears consumers go online first in many instances. With this convenience, however, comes added risk. Increased online shopping and banking offer crooks more opportunities to intercept your data – and your money.


Shopping on unsecured websites (without the https:// in the address bar) or using public Wi-Fi are two common ways your data can become compromised. Being selective about sites you visit or the apps you download to your phone is important, too. Many retailers, banks, and other organizations are targeted by hackers for the personal information of their customers.


Evolving Cybercriminal Methods


Identity theft techniques continue to evolve as technology advances. Dumpster diving, for example, is an old-school, low-tech method of obtaining a person’s sensitive personal info. This approach is less likely now, since there are so many new and improved ways to steal data, especially in bulk. These include:



  • AI and deepfakes – realistic audio and video recordings used to bypass biometric security measures or to trick people into willfully providing their data or money.


  • QR code scams – harmful links can be hidden in a QR code and affixed anywhere they might be confused for something legitimate, such as on a parking meter or at a concert or sporting event.


  • Smart home attacks – if a cybercriminal hacks into a single smart device in your home (e.g., a wireless printer), they could gain access to other info on your network or on other connected devices (e.g., cellphone, laptop).


Social Media Sharing


What celebrity do you look like? Who’s your spirit animal? Which historical figure were you in a past life?


While social media quizzes like these seem like a whole lot of fun and games, it’s also a great way to harvest your personal data, either for the people behind the game/app – or for hackers who break into its database. When you grant an app access to your social media profile, it can collect a wide range of information from your profile, such as your email, birthdate, and other personal details.


Weak Passwords+


Despite an increasing awareness of cyber threats, many people do not follow best practices for online security, such as:


  • Use 12-character passwords unique to each site/account; 8-character passwords are no longer strong enough!
  • Enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.
  • Regularly monitor your accounts for any unauthorized activity; set up notifications to alert you anytime debits over a certain threshold occur.
  • Only use secured Wi-Fi; consider using a VPN to encrypt your internet connection.
  • Keep your phone and computer software updated, including any security programs you use.
  • Be suspicious and cautious whenever you provide sensitive data online.


Don’t get lazy with your passwords or online security practices. Using the same password for more than one online account leaves you vulnerable to identity theft. The time you might save now using an easy-to-remember password for all your accounts could end up costing you, in time and money, when you’re hacked.


Don’t Wait Until Identity Theft Happens to You


The best thing you can do to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft fraud is to make sure you have protections in place wherever possible. Don’t click on suspicious links, especially in communications you didn’t initiate. Remain vigilant and regularly review your accounts.


The best backup plan you can put in place? Identity theft insurance coverage – offered as an add-on to many home, condo, and renters insurance policies. It can help you recover after identity theft fraud occurs and pay for expenses related to restoring your credit. To find out more about identity theft protection, call The Windward Insurance Agency at (866) 231-2433.