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October 30, 2023

Online identity theft: an overview

Identity theft is no joke. While the internet makes it easier to access and store personal files, it also opens more opportunities for digital hackers to steal your information and use it for malicious purposes. By being aware of what online identity theft is and how it works, you can reduce the chances of becoming a victim of it. Learn about online identity theft and find prevention tips to keep your information safe.

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What is online identity theft?

Online identity theft happens when your files and passwords are involuntarily accessed by hackers and cybercriminals. Before the internet, identity theft occurred when criminals got a hold of your personal information by going through your mail or obtaining your records by creating fake organizations. But in today’s age of smartphones and computers, scammers can now reach you without having to leave their homes. By using the information they find online, scammers take a variety of measures with the goal of finding enough details to use your identity for their own personal gain.

How does online identity theft happen?

The more time you spend on the internet, the bigger your digital footprint grows. When your digital footprint grows, more of your personal information is accessible online. Hackers and cybercriminals will often start with details like your name, phone number, and address, as they can be valuable tools for finding more confidential information like your Social Security number and credit card accounts. They can also target you by using phishing tactics like text messaging and email scams to get more information out of you.

Phishing scams are scary because they also serve as ploys to attach malware to your devices. Your phone or computer can get infected with malware by clicking on a pop-up ad or a link from a suspicious message. Once malware is on your device, scammers can go through your data to steal personal information or even spy on you without you knowing.

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Online identity theft through fake social media profiles

Sometimes, the only information a scammer needs can be found on your social media profiles. Scammers will often create social media scams by using your name, pictures, and information to make a new profile that looks just like you. They can then use this profile to contact your friends and relatives and try to trick them into getting money or other personal details. In more advanced cases, scammers can hack into your own personal accounts and pose as you to contact your friends. This type of online identity theft can put others in danger of getting scammed and make you look bad in the process.

“Online identity theft happens when your files and passwords are involuntarily accessed by hackers and cybercriminals.”

What happens when your identity is stolen online?

If you are a victim of online identity theft, you’ll most likely be affected by your finances. Scammers who get a hold of information like credit card numbers, passwords to online bank accounts, purchase history, or your Social Security number can rack up debt in your name and use your information to open new accounts. These actions can cause you to lose money and lower your credit score, which makes it difficult to take out loans in the future.

Scammers can also sell your private information to other people on the Dark Web. Once your information is passed along, it can be used for other illegal phishing scams. In more extreme cases, your identity may be used by someone else to escape criminal charges or to get medical care.

How to prevent online identity theft

Staying safe online and protecting your data will prevent scammers from getting a hold of your personal information. Here are some tips you can follow:

  • Avoid looking at messages from people you don’t know. If you don’t recognize the sender, it may be a scammer trying to reach out to you.
  • Keep your private information to yourself. The less they know, the better. It also helps to avoid giving out personal facts like your favorite food or travel destination, as scammers can use them to bypass security questions.
  • Remove your information from the internet. You may not be aware of just how much of your personal details can be found with a quick search. Removing yourself from public record sites is a step you can take to limit the amount of information that scammers can find.
  • Upload your documents to the cloud. When storing private information online, use a cloud storage platform that can keep your documents safe and accessible.
  • Download a malware detection tool. A good antivirus software can stop and remove malware before it can get into your personal files.
  • Keep an eye out for suspicious account activity. Check your online banking statements to make sure that nothing unusual is going on. If you see a payment or withdrawal that wasn’t you, report it immediately.
  • Create unique passwords for your accounts. Typing in a long, elaborate password each time may be a hassle, but it’s a good way to keep others out of your account. Make sure you choose a password that isn’t easy to guess.

Online identity theft can happen to anyone, but knowing how to keep your information protected will help you use the internet safely. Find more privacy and safety tips to stay alert while navigating the digital world.

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