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February 18, 2021

An Internet User’s Guide to Avoiding Identity Theft

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Identity theft is a pressing matter that everyone should increase their awareness of. The number of hacks, scams, and other cybercrimes grows each year, creating a higher risk to your personal information. As a result, instances of identity theft increase as well. With the ability to affect anyone, from a part-time retail worker to a multi-million dollar CEO, identity theft is responsible for millions of dollars of damage each year, along with the personal damage it causes its victims. But what is identity theft, really? Beyond that, how does it happen, and can you protect yourself? Let’s take a look:

  • What is identity theft?
  • How does it happen online?
  • How can you protect yourself?

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a crime in which the criminal acquires and uses the victim’s private information for their own gain (typically financial), without permission. Some of the information that may be involved in identity theft includes the victim’s name, their social security/insurance number, credit card information, and more. Although identity theft has been around for decades (the term was first coined in 1964), it’s becoming increasingly prevalent thanks to our increased reliance on the internet. Today, anyone committing identity theft can use a victim’s information to do all sorts of things, such as:

  • Making purchases with a victim’s credit card and identity
  • Using the victim’s social media accounts to spread damaging content (such as phishing scams or harmful fake news)
  • Applying for mortgages, loans, and leases by using the victim’s information (which can result in financial ruin)
  • Contacting the victim’s family to scam them too

In general, identity thieves aim to create chaos for the victim, while profiting from that chaos.

How Does it Happen Online?

Identity theft can happen both online and off. However, it’s becoming more common online because cybercriminals don’t have to get anywhere near you to steal your data. Unfortunately, many people lack the knowledge to protect themselves, simply because they don’t take the threat of digital identity theft seriously.

Generally speaking, anyone online is at risk for identity theft. Cybercriminals have the tools and means to strike from anywhere in the world. So how do they use those tools? While identity theft can happen in various ways, a few methods are more common than others, including:

  • Password Theft: Many hackers use algorithms to guess people’s passwords to common websites. If your password is weak (or commonly used), the chance that the algorithm can guess it increases. Unfortunately, that’s not even the only way for your password to be stolen, though it is one of the most common.
  • Database Hacking: Also known as a “data breach,” some hackers successfully manage to break into the digital databases that contain your personal information, which gives them the opportunity to use that information any way they choose.
  • Phishing: Many hackers create realistic looking messages (most commonly in the form of emails) designed to trick you into surrendering your information or clicking on a link that installs data theft software onto your devices.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Considering that identity theft is subtle, devious, creative, and can affect anyone, it’s essential that you protect yourself online at all times. When it comes to protecting yourself from a tenacious cybercriminal, the habits you develop as you surf the web will be your greatest defence. By taking the time to protect your sensitive information, you can stay a step ahead of identity thieves. Here are a few of the best habits to develop online:

  • Always Use a VPN: VPNs work by encrypting your activity and anonymizing your data. This prevents hackers from getting their hands on it because they simply can’t see your information. However, although VPNs protect you from information theft while surfing the web, they cannot prevent data breaches from the websites you save your information on.
  • Only Store Your Data on Trusted Sites: Because a VPN can’t protect you from data breaches, make sure you’re only allowing trusted websites to save your data. If you trust a website that has poor security protocols, you may increase your odds of falling victim to identity theft through a data breach.
  • Use Strong Passwords: Never trust your data with a weak password. If your password is weak (and easily hackable), you can kiss your data goodbye. Use long strings of random numbers, letters, and symbols, and vary the capitalization of your letters.
  • Don’t Overshare Online: Identity thieves can gather a lot of information about a person based only on the information they share online (such as email addresses, answers to security questions, etc.). Avoid posting personal information as much as possible.

Conclusion

As identity theft rates continue to rise and pose a threat to the safety and security of users online, you must stay a step ahead and be more careful on the web. However, by developing a few good habits online, you can help reduce the risk to yourself.

If you’re looking to minimize your risk of experiencing identity theft, consider trying out HotBot VPN! Our service can protect your Android, iOS, and Windows devices every time you surf the web. Visit our website to learn more!

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