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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

How to Protect Your Identity Online

A padlock, smartphone, and tablet sitting on a laptop.
ANDRANIK HAKOBYAN/Shutterstock.com

When Sandra Bullock starred in The Net in 1995, identity theft seemed new and unbelievable. But the world has changed. Starting in 2017, nearly 17 million Americans are victims of identity fraud every year.

Identity Theft Is Serious

Identity crimes include scenarios like a hacker who steals your credentials to break into your accounts or assume your financial identity, or someone thousands of miles away from you who runs up charges on your credit card and takes out loans in your name.

If you need something else to keep you awake, the FTC describes identity theft scenarios in which a thief gets a credit card in your name, sends the bill to another address, and (of course) never pays. Or he uses your personal information to steal your tax refund or pretends to be you if he’s arrested.

It can be hard to untangle yourself from identity theft, both legally and financially. And the damage to your credit history can be long-lasting. If there ever was a scenario in which an ounce of prevention is worth a metric ton of cure, this is it.

How Your Identity Can Be Stolen

Unfortunately, your identity is low-hanging fruit, able to be plucked in tons of ways. Offline, criminals steal mail from mailboxes or dumpster dive through trash, both of which might be chock full of credit offers and personal finance information (which is why you should own a shredder). Skimmers connected to gas pumps can capture your credit card info and so can restaurant staff. And recently, a cashier was arrested for stealing 1,300 credit cards he’d memorized.

Online, it’s even more dangerous, but people are increasingly more savvy to the most egregious hacks. Fewer and fewer unsecured retail web sites (those that begin with “http” rather than “https”) conduct transactions, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

The Amazon personalized home page.

This requires ever-more subtle phishing campaigns to trick people into giving up their personal information via credible-looking fraudulent emails. And there’s always a new scam around the corner.

“Another popular scam is through online dating apps,” said Whitney Joy Smith, president of The Smith Investigation Agency. “Scammers look for vulnerable people to build a relationship. After that, they ask for money or get enough personal information to conduct identity fraud.”

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