Given the pace the online world operates at, the sensitivities of users are continuously being exploited rapidly by cybercriminals. Identity theft has emerged as one of the most severe and familiar patterns of cybercrime.

Imagine the terrifying experience of having your identity stolen. The identity thief could wreck your life in several ways - from applying for a personal loan under your name to poaching your tax refunds or hacked Facebook account. Worryingly, in a digitally-connected world, the risk of identity theft is higher than ever. Anyone can become a victim of identity theft - from digitally-savvy professionals to kids that aren’t even of school-age yet to experienced retirees.

 

 

IDENTITY THEFT

Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of personally identifiable information to impersonate someone else.

There are a lot of ways identity theft can happen to you. Hackers may get your information from a data security breach. Or, you may unknowingly provide it on social media, during conversions others can hear or by leaving financial documents in unsafe places. That information may include:

  • Social Security number
  • Full name, address, and birthdate
  • Credit card or bank account numbers
  • Car insurance or medical insurance account numbers
  • Details that can tip off people to your account-recovery questions, such as your mother's maiden name or your home town

With this information, criminals could imitate you, max out your credit cards, rent an apartment, steal your frequent-flyer miles, or act out several other bad-guy fantasies.

 

 

COMMON TYPES OF IDENTITY THEFT

You've probably heard about thieves stealing credit card numbers or money from a bank account. To help catch this kind of identity theft, set up account alerts, scan your credit card and bank statements, and look for charges you don't recognize. But there are other types of identity theft to look for:

  • Senior ID theft - over 50% of fraud complaints are victims aged 50 and older
  • Medical ID theft – when a thief steals a health insurance card and gets medical care or prescription drugs
  • Tax ID theft – when a crook files a tax return in your name and nabs your refund
  • Child ID theft – when a thief opens accounts using a child’s Social Security number

Information theft offline

  • Shoulder surfing – happens when thieves peek over your shoulder as you type sensitive information into a computer, phone, or ATM. Or they may listen as you make a call and provide your account info
  • Dumpster diving — when a thief sifts through your garbage can. Discarded checks credit card are just two sources of valuable personal information

Information theft online

  • Public Wi-Fi – Usually doesn't encrypt data, so anyone with the Wi-Fi password and some hacker know-how can monitor what you see and what you send. The hacker could commit identity theft if he or she intercepts your info
  • Unencrypted websites – Make sure a website is encrypted before you use it for a financial transaction. Typically, you'll see a picture of a lock in the URL field, and the URL will contain "https," meaning it's secure
  • Phishing – Watch out for identity thieves who contact you from a phone number or email address tailored to look familiar and trustworthy. The goal is to get personal information from you

What to look for? A fishy email may have bad spelling or grammar, an unofficial-looking email address, an urgent request for information, and an attachment or link. If you get a suspicious email, contact the entity yourself and verify it's an email from the person or company you trust.

 

 

CASUALTIES

Last year alone, over €14 billion identities were stolen from over 15 million consumers in the U.S. What is even more disquieting is that identity theft can have a grievous impact on other aspects of your life beyond the money in your bank account. It can damage your credit score, permanently affect your criminal history and even your medical records. The following list reveals the significant impact of identity thefts:

  • Over the past six years, identity thieves have stolen over €96 billion
  • 1 out of 4 never fully recover a stolen identity
  • Social networkers have a 46% higher risk of account takeover fraud
  • The global average cost per data breach incident rose to €3.5 million
  • 28% of organizations say customer information or customer passwords are the information of the most significant value to cybercriminals
  • 55% of businesses worldwide report an increase in online fraud-related losses between 2017 and 2018
  • The 30-39 age group experiences the highest number of identity thefts
  • E-commerce fraud increased by more than 30% in H1 2017 compared to H1 2016
  • 60% of people consider public WiFi safe
  • 52% of small businesses don’t invest anything in cyber theft security
  • Only 27% of identity theft victims contacted law enforcement about the theft
  • Computer crime statistics show that 1 in 5 consumers believe that stealing information online is not as bad as taking a property in real life

 

Who’s most at risk?

The most common form of identity theft begins with unauthorized credit card and bank account charges. About 86% of fraud victims first notice the issue by catching an unauthorized charge on their bank account or credit card. Those lucky enough to discover the fraudulent charges early typically have the problem solved within a couple of hours. However, not all victims are so fortunate. Some cases can take years to resolve, while one out four never fully recover from identity theft.

Social networks are some of the riskiest platforms in terms of identity theft. Social networkers have a 46% higher risk of fraud than those who limit activity on the platforms. Online shoppers also have a 30% higher risk of fraud in comparison to non-shoppers. Necessary steps, such as clearing your credit card information in a browser, creating different passwords, and protecting your online shopping accounts, can help protect your data and the money that you have worked hard to amass.

Whether you’re 22 and a new college grad or 60 and preparing for retirement, staying informed about your digital life is more important than ever.

 

Financial impact & emotional toll

Identity theft typically comes as a shock; it has an “assaulting quality” to it. The effects can be life-altering, impacting your health, your emotional well-being, and your relationships with others.

From filing police reports to re-establishing credit, it can take some time for victims to get finances back in order. Those who already have a financial hardship or are still recovering from the economic recession might feel extra stress due to financial strain. If the victim feels his or her identity was stolen through carelessness or a mistake on his or her part, he or she may be embarrassed and blame himself or herself for the crime having taken place. Some victims are hesitant to seek help because they believe their actions or inactions may have contributed to the crime. You may blame yourself for not securing your password for an account or for not shredding sensitive personal documents. While taking responsibility for protecting your identity is essential, self-blame can be emotionally damaging. The anonymity of the crime can also lead victims to feel isolated as they search for the person who committed the crime.

 

TIPS FOR PROTECTING YOURSELF

How can you protect yourself? Most of all, be vigilant. Unfortunately, no consumer can completely protect themselves from the sophisticated tactics identity thieves use to get their hands on sensitive personal and financial information. That’s why information that helps raise awareness about identity theft is essential. The following are factors to consider when it comes to identity theft protection:

  • Keep your personal information secure offline. Consider limiting the particular documents you carry, and cross-shred documents that may contain personal or sensitive information, such as receipts, charge cards, and financial statements
  • Keep your personal information secure online. Among the behaviors you may want to consider when it comes to your personal information online, the FTC recommends that consumers avoid sharing passwords – even with friends and family – and suggests being extremely careful about the information you share on social networks
  • Keep your devices secure. Before sharing your personal information over public WiFi, understand how your information will be protected. Always lock up your devices, and stay current on the anti-virus software you may have installed on your devices
  • Turning on two-factor authentication wherever possible
  • Placing security freezes on your credit files
  • Signing up for account alerts everywhere. Text messages and emails about account activity are the best way to detect suspicious activity as early as possible
  • Keep birth certificates, Social Security cards, and other personal documents in a lockbox in your home. Make sure they are put away when someone is working in your home or even if you have a roommate
  • When disposing of documents, use a diagonal shredder, which makes documents harder to piece together than a traditional shredder does
  • Don’t leave outgoing bills, government forms, or tax forms in a mailbox. Take them directly to the post office. Have your mail held by the post office while on vacation
  • Don’t put your driver’s license number on your checks. Consider writing just your first initial and last name instead of your full name
  • Don’t toss credit card receipts in public places
  • Install anti-virus software, anti-malware software, and a firewall on your computer and keep them up-to-date. A tech-savvy identity thief can use a virus to get personal information from your network without you even knowing
  • Use unique passwords that are different for each website
  • Don’t put your birthdate or other sensitive information on your social media accounts, even just the month and day. A thief can figure out the year you were born by looking at your posts
  • Consider a credit monitoring and identity theft protection product, which will alert you to changes in your credit file such as a newly opened account

One of the most catastrophic data breaches in the history of consumerism happened 2017 at credit reporting giant Equifax, which exposed the personal information of 145 million Americans. And the insidious thing about this type of data is that it doesn’t die, frankly, until you do. That means that if obtained, thieves can use this in numerous attacks, and they can do it tomorrow — or in 20 years.

As a financial organization, FAST INVEST feels the responsibility to take proper steps to guarantee safety to all our customers. In addition to other safety protocols we have implemented, our customer verification process is built to fend off financial scams. For a new client to start using FAST INVEST services, they must provide and verify some critical personal information, such as their phone number, email address, and a copy of a valid ID. To tackle fraud risks, we use additional safety measures; we monitor payments larger than €10,000 and allow fund withdrawals through a personal bank only (it has to be under the user’s name). When it comes to protecting customer data, we work exclusively with reliable service providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS).