The Number One reason identity theft is the nation's Number One consumer concern is that you can lose your identity in so many ways and to so many different types of culprits.
Identity theft can happen just about everywhere – online, in public, in the workplace, and even in your own home. Which is why it's so important to always be vigilant and aware that you can be victimized just about anywhere.
From Your Computer and mobile devices
There are now estimated to be more than 200 million different types of computer viruses, spyware, bots, and keyloggers in circulation, and most designed to steal your personal information and your identity.
Much of this malicious software, or malware, is delivered by email – either hidden in or attached to the email, or using links in the email to trick you into downloading something nasty on to your computer.
And failure to properly erase your hard drive before you sell or dispose of it can leave years of personal data accessible to anyone with basic computer skills.
There are more than a dozen ways you can lose your identity online, some easy to spot, some not so easy:
- Drive-by downloads are web sites that contain malicious code that can automatically download on to your computer simply by visiting the web site.
- Phishing and pharming uses bogus emails and web sites pretending to be your bank or credit card company and tricking you into revealing your account password.
- Social networks are a haven for identity thieves, with thieves targeting gullible teens who might more easily be tricked into revealing personal information.
- Bogus web sites offering fake deals or products exist only to trick you into providing a credit card number or other personal information.
Hundreds of companies every year lose millions of customer records to data breaches. According to the most recent study there were nearly 1,000 publicized data breaches in the U.S. in 2016 that exposed millions of personal records, including financial and medical.
That's a steady increase over previous years, which suggests that businesses are not getting any better at protecting your personal data.
The thief who used to break in through a skylight armed with a crowbar can now break into the same business through a network, and armed with nothing more than a laptop.
Petty criminals were very quick to realize the money to be made in identity theft, and the very low risk of ever being caught or prosecuted. That's why burglars, car thieves, pickpockets, mail thieves, and drug addicts have turned to identity theft to make some easy money.
On the Move
Identity theft is usually a crime of opportunity. Thieves don't come looking for you, but instead either stumble across you or you do something they can immediately take advantage of. Identity theft can happen so easily when you're traveling or simply out in public:
In one scam, hotel guests received calls from the hotel reception who apologized for a computer error with credit card processing and requested that the guest re-confirm their credit card information. The calls actually came from outside the hotel.
Pickpockets around the world have found a ready market for anything stolen from a wallet or purse – credit cards, store cards, id cards, driver's license etc.
Skimming is a very common and relatively easy way for thieves to take an unauthorized copy of your credit or ATM card – by placing a bogus card reader on an ATM machine, waiters at a restaurant using pocket-sized card copiers, and even entire card swipers at supermarkets being compromised by dishonest insiders.
Family and Friends
Perhaps the worst kind of identity theft is the one committed by family, friends, and neighbors – the people we usually trust the most.
But a large percentage of identity thefts are committed by people close to the victim, who use insider knowledge, familiarity with the victim, and easy access to personal data, to commit a crime.
There's often the perception by thieves that there are no real victims in identity theft because the banks or credit card companies simply write off any losses. And there's also the hope that if discovered, the victim would be reluctant to press charges against a family member or friend.
In the Workplace
Many identity thefts begin in the workplace, either by employee errors that resulted in personal or customer data being exposed, or deliberate thefts by employees and other insiders.
Your greatest risk in the workplace could be from an insider who grabs an opportunity to copy your credit card number, steal a check from your checkbook, or access payroll files and steal your Social Security number.
For many professioonal identity theft gangs and rings, stealing mail from in front of homes or office buildings provides an endless supply of valuable data.
While thieves are always on the lookout for Social Security Numbers, most agree that any data is valuable, because it can either fill in a missing piece of an identity or lead the thieves to more valuable information.
And mail is now such a hot commodity, there have been reports of thieves stealing mail vans and even assaulting mail carriers just to get their hands on all the information.