Identity Theft: The New Normal

Gone are the days when our primary identity theft concern was having our credit card information stolen. Cyber criminals are after a much bigger piece of the pie – and they’re getting it. In today’s digital age, data breaches and stolen personal data sold on the black market are the new normal.

With scams and identity theft tactics getting more sophisticated, thieves can quickly sell your personal information on illicit websites, bulletin boards and chat rooms. You may never know about these online transactions of your personal data until you become a victim of fraud – and your good name and credit is trashed.

In 2018 alone, 14.4 million Americans became victims of identity theft – with losses of $14.7 billion. Identity thieves stole $3.4 billion simply by opening new accounts fraudulently, according to the Javelin Strategy & Research 2019 Identity Fraud Study. And to add insult to injury, victims spent more of their own money trying to repair the damage. Victims paid out-of-pocket repair costs of $1.7 billion in 2018.

But perhaps most alarming is the increasing adaptability of identity thieves, and the complexity of the scams. These sophisticated criminals can access step-by-step instructions to pull off new scams via illegal sites on the dark web, and are adept at adjusting and innovating to stay one step ahead.

Different types of identity theft

Here’s a rundown of different types of identity theft to be aware of to safeguard your information.

Your cell phone: A good call for identity thieves

Think about all the passwords, credit card info, shopping sites you have bookmarked, names/addresses/phone numbers and other personal data on your mobile phone. One of the ways thieves can hijack your life is by taking over your mobile phone account, dumping out all its contents and then going to town. According to the Javelin study, phone account hijacking jumped 79% in 2018, up to 679,000 victims versus 380,000 victims in 2017.

Your paycheck: A pay day for identity thieves

Cyber thieves are ready to profit from all your hard work. From trying to fool you into “verifying” banking information to re-route your direct deposit paycheck into their fraudulent account, to targeting the banks and financial institutions themselves, today’s cyber thieves are more ruthless and resourceful than ever. In addition to your paychecks, the 2019 Javelin report stated thieves can target your home mortgage, your student loans, even your car loan!

Your medical records: A lucrative cut for hackers

Your medical records may be putting your financial health at risk. The fastest growing form of identity theft is medical records theft.  According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, from January to September of 2019, more than 36 million medical records were exposed via data breaches. That’s 36 million more vulnerabilities identity thieves can exploit on the black market.

Medical records contain extremely valuable personal, credit and protected health information all in one place. This makes them highly-susceptible to fraudulent activity – and worth a fortune on the black market. Because your medical records are accessible at many points along the path (from your healthcare provider to patient billing to claims processing), it’s a data-rich environment for cyber thieves.

Your tax refund: A nice bonus for identity thieves

Tax-related identity theft remains one of the IRS “Dirty Dozen” top tax scams. According to USA Today, in 2018 the IRS blocked a whopping 605,000 fraudulent returns that were confirmed to be identity theft, and financial institutions blocked another 82,000. The massive 2017 Equifax data breach exposed the social security numbers of millions of Americans, making it easier for identity thieves to file fraudulent tax returns, and get their hands on your hard-earned tax refunds.

Be aware that having a credit freeze, flag or lock in place doesn’t prevent tax-related theft. Your best protection is to beat them to the punch by filing your tax returns early every year, and staying on top of your return as it is being processed.

Your online shopping: A steal for cyber thieves

In 2018, around the world $1 in every $10 dollars spent was online. With your favorite shopping sites and your browser storing credit card information – and with the rise of making monthly payments online – it’s getting more lucrative for thieves to jump in and steal. According to digital payment software provider Ravelin, 82% of US businesses experienced some type of payment fraud in 2018.

Credit card fraud used to be limited to a handful of low- to no-tech methods such as: stealing a credit card from a mailbox or someone’s wallet, falsifying a credit card application or attaching a “skimmer” to an ATM or at checkout to capture credit card data. 

In recent years, data theft from big-box retailers has enabled cyber thieves to do far more damage with fewer attacks.  Stolen card data is used to clone credit cards and the personal data is “repurposed” to commit additional fraud and identity theft. Today, retailers’ most valuable and vulnerable asset is you, their customer. Retail is a data-rich hunting ground for cyber thieves – and with tens of millions of credit and debit cards compromised, it adds up.

How to protect against identity theft

Early detection is critical to stopping identity thieves in their tracks – so you can minimize the damage to your good name and finances. If you’re not already monitoring your credit, this is the ideal time to start. Monitor your accounts and regularly review all three of your credit reports for unusual activity throughout the year. Also, consider identity theft monitoring to help protect your social security number and other personal data from going to the highest bidder on the dark web.

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