What is Identity Theft and How Can It Affect You?

Concerned Woman looking BAck while Sitting at computer

Identity theft occurs when your personal details are acquired and used by unauthorized individuals for their personal gain. Business News Daily pointed out that 41% of victims reported stolen credit cards and that criminals used them without their consent. Once your information gets into the hands of malicious individuals or groups, you can end up facing financial and social consequences.

According to the FTC, identity theft victims have collectively lost more than $3.3 billion in 2020. Once your personal information gets stolen, you may lose money from your bank accounts or pay off huge amounts due to the unauthorized purchases made by the criminals. To add to that, Petal lists identity theft as one of the reasons your credit score could be dropping without your knowledge. The person who has stolen your identity could have used it to open a credit line under your name, using it for frivolous purchases without paying bills or sticking to the ideal credit utilization rate. All of these will leave negative footprints in your credit history, lasting up to seven years. As a result, you may hurt your chances of getting a job or even an affordable auto loan and mortgage!

This crime can also cause social consequences. Your reputation and your personal relationships can be on the line, especially if hackers gain access to your social media accounts. Most importantly, your mobile phone numbers and your home address can also be exposed and used for malicious activities.

How Can You Avoid Identity Theft?

Good digital habits can protect you and even your loved ones from the consequences of identity theft. Prevent yourself from becoming a victim of this crime by practicing the following:

1. Create strong passwords for your online accounts

NBC News reveals that weak passwords are one of the most common habits that put people at risk for this crime. Simple (or obvious) words and phrases are easy for hackers to figure out. But, you can strengthen your passwords by adding a capital letter and a number to create complex words or phrases. And don’t use the same password for everything!

2. Check your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly

Keep track of your bank accounts and credit card statements to spot unauthorized transactions or unfamiliar charges. You can nip fraud in the bud if you’re aware and lessen further damages to yourself.

3. Avoid sharing private information

Your social media account may be exposing personal data that allow hackers to answer oversimplified security questions. For instance, your geotagged posts and birthday posts can give them clues about your personal information.

Moreover, avoid sharing sensitive documents or account numbers through emails, messaging platforms, and even suspicious telemarketer calls.

4. Avoid sketchy websites

It goes without saying that you should avoid unsecure or sketchy-looking websites. If there are lots of popups and redirects, get out of there immediately! Look at reviews of ecommerce sites before making any purchases that require your personal information, too.

5. Watch out for phishing scams

Phishing is a scam in which criminals make use of authentic-looking emails or messages. These often contain unsecure links, or instructions for you to accomplish a task, such as providing your sensitive information. Always double check if the sender is legitimate and if it is from someone you know. You might not notice that the sender’s email has an additional or missing character, or the site is a .net instead of a .com. Watch out for these signs to avoid being victimized by phishing attempts.

You can lose your savings, security, and even numerous professional opportunities due to identity theft. Protect yourself and your loved ones by following these habits when you go online.

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