How breaches lead to a stolen identity
Data breaches pepper the news. Cybercriminals have attacked all kinds of targets, including major retailers, government organizations, and healthcare providers. Often, the criminals aren’t after the contents of a company’s coffers, but, rather, the information—your personal data—in its electronic files. By stealing data that may include customer names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and birthdates, the thieves can try to steal people’s identities.
And by stealing people’s identities, thieves can take the next step to identity fraud. It’s big business. Nearly 15 billion dollars were stolen from identity theft victims in 2017, according to a 2018 online survey of 540 U.S. adults, conducted for Symantec by The Harris Poll.
How can I help protect my ID?
The U.S. Department of Justice defines identity theft and identity fraud as “all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
So, a criminal uses your stolen personal data to recreate your identity for himself. That’s identity theft. And then, through identity theft, he enriches himself posing as you. That’s identity fraud. How does he enrich himself? He could take out a bank loan in your name. And you might not find out until it’s too late—perhaps when the bank sues you for nonpayment on a loan you didn’t even know about.
What can you do to help protect yourself? Well, no one can prevent identity theft. But you can take steps to help protect your personal data. One place to start? The data that’s under your control.
Take basic fraud protection steps
Let’s start with your Social Security number. It’s an important part of your identity, and you want to protect it in every way you can. For instance, remember never to carry your Social Security card with you in your wallet or purse. It’s too easy to lose. And if you lose your wallet, whoever finds it might have access not only to your Social Security number, but also to your driver’s license, which includes your full name, home address and date of birth. That information would give a thief what he might need to steal your identity.
Protect your information at home
Remember to protect important documents that could be stolen from your home. Ensure your mailbox is secure. Shred documents containing personal information before you discard them. Some identity thieves steal from mailboxes and the trash to gather your personal information.
People inside your home can also pose risks. Remember never to let strangers have unfettered access to your living space. This may sound like a no-brainer, but consider repair people, house cleaners, caregivers and others you may not think twice about. Even a relative or friend with financial troubles might resort to identity theft. You don’t want to make yourself an easy target.