Costume parties and trick-or-treating are good spooky fun, but a disguise that lets someone pretend to be you is downright scary. What would that kind of disguise look like? In the world of technology, connectivity, and freely available unsecured WiFi, it looks a lot like a common criminal hiding behind a computer.
When identity theft first became a recognized crime, thieves were typically after your money. In fact, security and privacy experts can actually distinguish between the different types of identity theft, labelled based on what the thief was after and what he did with your information. While financial identity theft is still one of the most prevalent types, other forms of ID theft like government, criminal, and medical are gaining ground.
One major shift in the available statistics shows that identity thieves are no longer content with your credit card number or your bank account. In this era of computerized commerce, it’s all too easy for a financial office to discover fraud on your accounts; some consumers are alerted less than 24 hours after a suspicious charge is made with their credit cards, meaning a thief has only a matter of hours to do all the damage he can before the account is frozen or closed.
Instead, cybercriminals have an even scarier goal, and that’s to nab your permanent information like Social Security numbers, birthdates, and other account identifiers. With the proper long-term data, an identity thief can disguise himself as you and wreak havoc for years to come.
In the spirit of Halloween, here are some gruesome facts about losing your data to a masked villain who’s after your identity:
- One out of every six computers does NOT have antivirus protection installed. This leaves the door wide open for a hacker to get into your system and steal your important data.
- Two-thirds of large-scale cybercrimes started because someone fell for a phishing email.
- Child identity theft has doubled in only a year’s time for some age groups, and children are targeted by identity thieves 35 times more often than adults.
- Active duty military and veterans report identity theft twice as often as the general public.
- By the beginning of this year, over 2 million Americans were victims of medical identity theft.
Fortunately, Halloween tricks also come with treats, and protecting yourself from identity theft is the best treat of all. There are some very simple steps you can take to combat the growing crime of identity theft, starting with your own protective behaviors. Be mindful of where you share information about yourself, and how much information you share both online and in person. Be sure to protect your tech by installing antivirus software, password protecting your WiFi network, and using a VPN if you have to connect to WiFi in public. Finally, get into the good habit of requesting copies of your credit reports periodically and monitoring them for any suspicious activity.