A step-by-step guide on how to protect yourself from identity theft in 2023

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, obtained illegally, to commit fraud. This includes sensitive data such as social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit and bank card numbers, phone numbers, and passwords. The thief can open credit cards or loans in your name with this information.

Be aware that identity theft can result in stolen tax refunds, monetary scams, changed passwords, and contact information, leaving you in the dark. These thieves are always finding new ways to deceive, so stay vigilant.

Don't think you're safe because you wouldn't give out personal information over the phone. Publicly available information, such as your address and phone number, can be used to obtain more sensitive data, such as your date of birth and the names of your family or friends (thanks to social media). With enough information, the thief can pose as a trusted source, such as the IRS or a bank.

How do identity thieves get your personal information and how can you prevent these kinds of attacks?

1. Phishing, smishing, and vishing scams that steal your personal information
Beware of phishing attacks, in which cybercriminals pose as known companies or government agencies to steal personal information, and money or infect your devices with malware. These attacks can occur through emails, smishing (fraudulent text messages), social media posts, or vishing (phone calls). Stay alert!

Scammers may direct you to phishing sites, disguised as familiar login pages like your bank or streaming service. Any credentials entered on these fake pages are passed directly to the scammer, so beware.

How to prevent this type of attack? 
  • Do not click on links from unknown sources.
  • Use direct site access for online services.
  • Ignore unknown texts, voicemails, and emails.
  • Use antivirus and VPN to protect your devices and network.
  • Block unsolicited calls and messages.
  • Report unsolicited messages and calls on your government website (For example, in France, there is a dedicated platform for this called Pharo).
  • Watch for signs of phishing: bad grammar/spelling, urgency, and suspicious links.
2. Theft or loss of your wallet
Stealing your wallet can be a disaster because it can give crooks access to your credit cards and identification. Your driver's license, in particular, contains valuable personal information such as your full name, address, date of birth, signature and photo, which can be used for identity theft. These people can use this information to perpetrate scams against you, obtain loans or credit cards in your name, or even sell your information on the Dark Web.

How can you prevent these types of attack?
  • Protect your wallet, purse, and important documents at all times. 
  • Keep an up-to-date inventory of your wallet's contents and check frequently to make sure nothing is missing. If a wallet or purse is lost, take immediate action and notify the police, banks, and creditors as soon as possible.
3. Theft or loss of your phone or any portable digital device
  • Your phone and other digital devices are valuable targets for identity theft. Cybercriminals can exploit access to your phone to make unauthorized purchases with linked credit cards, hack into your email and bank accounts, or access sensitive information, photos, and videos.
How can you prevent this type of attack?
  • Use "auto-lock" and biometric security like facial recognition or fingerprint identification.
  • Create a strong passcode.
  • Avoid saving passwords in your mobile browser.
  • Enable the "Find My Device" feature on all your digital devices.
  • Assign a trusted backup number to your device to quickly recover your account in case of a hack.
4. Data Breach
Data breaches occur when cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to the services you use and steal your personal information, such as your name, email, passwords, credit card numbers, and social security number.

How to prevent this type of attack? 
  • Use different, strong passwords for each account.
  • Consider using a password manager to easily manage unique passwords.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) using an authentication application.
  • Limit the amount of personal information shared with online services.
  • Avoid entering your social security number and storing credit card information with online shopping sites.

5. Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks (e.g. in coffee shops, airports, and hotels) are vulnerable to hacking and accessing sensitive information such as emails, passwords, and even your account numbers if you are connected to a hacked network.

How to prevent this type of attack?
  • Use a VPN to encrypt your data and prevent it from being seen by hackers.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi and use a mobile hotspot instead.
  • If you must use public Wi-Fi, do not enter sensitive information such as passwords, account details, or other sensitive data.
6. Impersonation scams, in which scammers pose as representatives of a company or government.
Impersonation identity theft occurs when a scammer poses as a representative of a company you use or a government agency. These scammers contact you by phone, email, text message, or even in person, and try to get you to provide them with sensitive information or send them money.

How to prevent this type of attack?
  • Verify the identity of anyone who contacts you unsolicited.
  • Confirm the identity of anyone claiming to be from a company or government agency by calling the office number listed on their website.
  • Beware of requests from "tech support specialists" via social media or email - these are often scams used to gain access to your devices or steal money.
Steps to take if you are a victim of identity theft:

  • Protect your credit card by stopping it contact your bank or the companies you have credit with.  
  • Ensure increased security by placing a fraud alert on your credit report, requiring verification from banks/financial institutions before approving a new account.
  • Gather evidence of identity theft by collecting screenshots, URLs, and proof of identity. Contact the website(s) where the theft took place and request the removal of your information.
  • File a complaint with local law enforcement, such as a police station.

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