There were over 5.7 million crime reports of identity theft and fraud in 2021. Approximately half of these complaints regarded cyber-fraud incidents, and 25 percent of them involved identity theft. Next to fraud, online identity theft is the most rampant form of cybercrime targeting individual consumers.
While the exact mechanism of an identity theft incident will vary, the basic premise remains the same: bad actors will attempt to steal some of your private identifying information so that they can use it for personal gain. Examples of information they may attempt to obtain include Social Security numbers (SSN), birthdays, e-mail addresses, mailing addresses and credit card numbers.
Hackers become more sophisticated every year; however, you can proactively protect your identity online by leveraging a few proven strategies.
1. Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi Networks
Like most people, you likely join public Wi-Fi networks when visiting your favorite coffee shop, staying at a hotel or stopping in your go-to fast food joint. While accessing public Wi-Fi may be convenient, it can also open you up to online identity theft.
We are by no means suggesting that you should never use public Wi-Fi networks. However, you should take steps to protect yourself on public Wi-Fi, like using websites with safe connections (more on this below) and not using AirDrop or File Share. Next time you prepare to join one of these networks, make sure you are following best practices, doing so can keep your personal information out of the hands of hackers.
2. Invest in Identity Theft Protection
If you really want to lock down your personal information, you may want to consider investing in an identity theft protection plan. Such a plan includes services like credit monitoring, security software for multiple devices, access to a Virtual Private Network app and SSN alerts.
LifeLock offers identity theft protection plans to fit any budget. The company monitors your personal information, credit report and score 24/7. And if identity theft does occur, an Identity Restoration Specialist will personally manage your case.
3. Look for the Padlock Symbol
Whether browsing the web from your laptop, tablet or smartphone, it is important that you pay special attention to the URL bar of your web browser.
Specifically, you should be looking for the letters “HTTPS” in the address. Many web browsers no longer display these letters but instead show a “padlock” symbol if your browser has a secure connection with the site you are visiting.
If there is no padlock or you see the letters “HTTP” without the “S” (for “secure”), avoid entering any personal information into that website’s forms. You may want to leave the site entirely, just to be safe.
4. Create Strong Passwords
If hackers do obtain information such as your e-mail address, birthday and name, they may attempt to access websites that you have an account with. This process does not take nearly as much guesswork as you might think. They will typically start with popular websites such as Amazon or Google and work from there.
You can undermine their efforts by creating strong passwords for all of your online accounts. Avoid using information such as your birthday or the names of your children. Instead, you should create a password that you can remember but that is not based on potentially easily-accessible information.
By leveraging these four tips, you can protect your identity online and keep your personal data out of the hands of hackers.