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May 13, 2021

How to Protect Yourself from Synthetic Identity Theft

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Identity theft isn’t a new concept. Everyone knows that a criminal, in possession of the right data, can take over anyone’s identity and wreak havoc on their lives. What you might not know is that there are multiple types of identity theft. The traditional definition involves a criminal stealing and selling a person’s information on the black market. Information may include things like your name, address, date of birth, SSN/SIN, employer and banking information, and more. To be valuable, this type of theft must be very thorough.

By contrast, synthetic identity theft can be managed with less real data because it’s also combined with false information to create a brand new identity. For example, a criminal can sign up for a credit card with a fake name but your very real SSN number. This type of crime is both easier to commit and harder to track. Here are the basics of synthetic identity theft and HotBot’s tips for protecting yourself:

  • How does synthetic identity theft work?
  • What can criminals do with a stolen identity?
  • Who is most at risk?
  • How do you protect yourself?

How Does Synthetic Identity Theft Work?

A criminal begins by gathering whatever personal data they can find about you. This may seem like a tricky task, but it’s easier than you may think. Thanks to social media, the real names, birthdays, and approximate locations of billions can be found with ease. Your IP address may give away more specific location information, and any data leak from a business you have an account with can offer up even more details. 

Once a criminal has your data, they fill in the gaps of what they don’t have with fake information to create an entirely new identity. From there, they can link this identity to an existing bank account and even apply for credit cards. At first, they’ll spend time building their credit score as high as possible, so they can gain greater access to funds down the line. Once suitably high, the criminal can then make big ticket purchases, take out major loans, then vanish with the goods and default on the payments.

When financial institutions try to track down the person owing the money, the fake identity usually has enough real information to lead them back to the victim of the theft in the first place, who gets a nasty shock when creditors they didn’t know about come knocking.

What Can Criminals Do With a Stolen Identity?

Normally, synthetic identity theft is done with the intention of stealing money, in one form or another. With a fake identity, scammers can fake credit scores to open bank accounts and apply for credit cards. They can also use the credit established under the fake name to take out loans. Meanwhile, some scammers use fake identities to claim benefits they have no right to, or to apply for a working permit in a foreign nation. These aren’t the only things they may do with a stolen identity, but they are some of the most common.

Who is Most at Risk?

Generally speaking, a scammer interested in stealing someone’s identity wants to give themselves lots of time to pull off the theft before anyone notices. Because of this, the most likely victims of identity theft are children and those with little to no credit history. Because these groups of people aren’t likely to use their information for major purchases any time soon, they have the maximum amount of time to conduct the maximum amount of damage.

How Do You Protect Yourself?

Although there is no guaranteed way of preventing synthetic identity theft, you can help reduce the risk to you with these tips:

  • Carefully monitor your credit score. Often, the first time a victim realizes their identity has been stolen happens when they try to make a big purchase or take out a loan and find that their credit score has been reduced to ash. By keeping a close eye on your credit score, you can spot any changes as they happen and stop identity theft before it’s too late.
  • Use a VPN. Many cybercriminals steal people’s personal information simply by spying on them online. If your browsing activity isn’t secure, anyone with the know-how can steal information from your activity itself, or from your IP address. By using a VPN when you browse, which encrypts and anonymizes your data, you protect yourself from this danger.
  • Be on the lookout for phishing and other online scams. Hackers are excellent at making a scam look like it’s, well, not a scam. If you accidentally fall for it, they can steal your data without you even knowing it.
  • Don’t give away too much online. Every time a new social media platform hits the web, people sign up. But the more social media platforms you use (and the more websites you sign up for in general), the more personal information you give away online, which puts you at greater risk for identity theft. Rather than joining as many online sites as possible, be judicious about where you leave your data behind.

Conclusion

Synthetic identity theft is one of the fastest growing cybercrimes in the world. It’s easy to pull off, and difficult to detect. Many of the institutions we trust to protect us from this crime use outdated security and verification measures, meaning that, if they catch it at all, it’s already too late. Rather than waiting for someone else to protect your from identity theft, be proactive about your own safety by understanding the danger and using our tips to protect yourself.

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