Cruising along the information superhighway used to be a casual, almost cavalier affair. There weren’t quite so many dangers, and the concept of identity theft was pretty far from our minds. But as technology evolved and the way we use the internet changed, so, too, did the threats against us. Identity theft is one of the most common and costly cyber crimes facing people today. Preventing it is paramount to online safety. That’s why we’ve put together this short guide on safeguarding yourself from this pervasive threat. Check it out below.
Understanding the Growing Threat of Identity Theft
Unless you’ve been practicing mindfulness in a cave for the last two decades, you’re probably already familiar with the concept—and ever-present threat—of identity threat/compromise. Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States, negatively impacting many people yearly. In fact, over 300,000 cases are reported each year, and that number will only continue to rise as the world becomes more dependent on technology and AI. Identity theft happens through carelessness, leaving financial/personal data out in the open, using dangerous websites, phishing/vishing scams, and several other ways. Phishing scams are still pretty common, and criminals will always seize the opportunity to use someone else’s data to open accounts, make fraudulent purchases, or simply wreak financial havoc.
Best Practices for Password Management
Passwords. We use them every day for pretty much everything. But the problem with passwords is that they can be insecure, difficult to remember, and (at least in some cases) easily hacked. Compromised passwords are one of the biggest paths to hackers accessing—and stealing—personally identifiable data. That’s why reinforcing passwords, creating complex passwords, and using multi-factor authentication is crucial. Authenticators, such as two-factor and multi-factor authentication, can help safeguard passwords. They provide an extra layer of defense against password compromise. Think of it as wearing a parka over a jacket during a blizzard. One protects you from the elements, but the other doubles (or layers) that protection, ultimately keeping you safer than if you’d gone with the jacket alone. Multi-factor authentication has taken off in recent years as a common cybersecurity measure, whether used for password protection, email, or logging into company systems. Companies and individuals can also use password managers to store a bunch of passwords under a single multi-layer security program. Ultimately, create high-quality, secure passwords (you know the drill: upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, or skip those altogether and opt for passphrases).
Managing Privacy on Social Media Platforms
Although social media is sometimes fun, can be a fantastic way to keep in touch, and offers some great ways to kill time, it can also be dangerous and fraught with peril. And it isn’t exactly the epitome of security; Facebook has lost a ton of data due to breaches (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?). LinkedIn was breached several times over the past decade, Twitter was breached in 2016 (and again in 2020 and 2022), and many smaller social media platforms couldn’t keep their data even if it were nailed down! This creates massive privacy issues. The best way around it is to be extremely selective of what you share online, regularly monitor/adjust your privacy settings, and watch for red flags that could lead to data compromise.
Monitoring and Responding to Identity Theft
Sometimes, the best defense against a threat is to take the offensive and do a preemptive strike. In the case of identity protection, monitoring your credit and financial accounts is a good start. Anyone can access a free copy of their credit report once per year, and it’s a good idea to look at it once in a while to see if there’s any suspicious activity. Checking your account daily is practical and helpful for keeping track of your finances. Moreover, if you notice something suspicious on your credit report, you can contact the credit bureau and have it investigated for fraud. Keeping tabs on sensitive data is the most important step toward protecting yourself from identity theft. Using software with ID protection can also be a fantastic shield for preventing identity theft. And you should always be careful about what you share online and how you use your devices
Identity theft—whether it happens through a data breach, unsafe website, or carelessness—is only getting worse. In 2022, identity theft impacted over 40 million consumers globally. But there’s light at the end of this tunnel: identity theft doesn’t have to happen to you. The best step is to be proactive. Monitor your accounts. Don’t overshare. Check privacy settings. Use strong passwords and security software. Try to identify and avoid potential identity theft threats as they arise. And if you do become a victim, act fast. Report the crime to local law enforcement and notify the FTC or another agency responsible for regulating identity theft in your state. Taking preemptive action and responding to threats appropriately will lead to a safer, more secure online presence and make you less susceptible to identity theft.