How To Protect Yourself Against Online Identity Theft
According to the latest reports, 2017 had the highest number of online identity theft cases in history. In February of this year, Javelin Strategy and Research released a survey which found that there were a total of 16.7 million victims of identity theft in 2017.
You can’t deny that online identity theft is a huge problem. The question is: What can you do about it? If you want to avoid online identity theft, here are five steps you need to take.
1. Shop only on secure websites.
Make sure that you only enter your credit card information and shop on trusted and reputable websites. Always check if the website is secure by looking for HTTPS:// at the beginning of its URL. This signifies that the website is encrypted with Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption protocols, and any communication between you and the website is kept private and safe.
2. Be wary of social engineering attacks.
Social engineering is when the perpetrator of the attack manipulates you into providing sensitive information. A prime example is phishing emails, which often follow this pattern:
- Sender pretends to be your financial institution (bank, lender, etc.)
- Email asks you for your bank info under false pretenses (fraud on your account)
- Email urges immediate action, and
- Makes threats if you don’t comply (account closure)
Cybercriminals are experts at instilling fear, so it’s not surprising that many people fall for the trap. In order to avoid this kind of attack, you only need to remember one thing: Banks and financial institutions never ask for information via email. In cases of fraud, you would be given a call and asked to come to your nearest branch for face-to-face verification.
3. Take advantage of VPN technology.
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is not usually someone’s first choice for data security. However, VPNs actually offer plenty of benefits when it comes to privacy and security.
The main advantage of a VPN is that it encrypts data traffic over a network. This means hackers wouldn’t be able to access nor steal your information. A VPN also enables anonymous browsing by concealing your IP address (and therefore your physical location) and replacing it with one from a different country.
4. Monitor your finances.
Sometimes, fraud is not reported by your bank right away, so examine your accounts on a regular basis just to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary. When you get your bank statements, review it thoroughly and go through all the transactions one by one.
You also need to check your credit reports from every agency (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) every few months to check whether your rating hasn’t abnormally increased or decreased. You can also have your credit frozen. If you do so, your credit is locked and all credit applications are rejected until you decide to unfreeze it. Just keep in mind that freezing and unfreezing your credit costs a few dollars, depending on which state you live.
5. Do not make transactions on public Wi-Fi.
If you want to protect your financial information and your identity, under no circumstances should you log on to your online banking accounts or make financial transactions when you are on free public wi-fi. These networks are not secure and are often used by cybercriminals to spy on whoever is on the network, steal their information, or inject malware into their devices.
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