One of the worst things that could happen to you is to have your identity stolen. Just imagine what it must feel like to someday get arrested out of the blue. You are sure that you did not do anything wrong, and you have no idea what is this all about.
Or, to start receiving notions about payments that you did not fulfill in time, or discovering strange behavior on your credit card report. Any of these things would probably chill your blood instantly, and with a good reason.
Identity thefts are, unfortunately, a pretty common occurrence, and they can happen for a majority of reasons.
But can you know?
How to check if someone is using your identity?
And what to do if your identity has been stolen?
These are some of the questions that we will try to answer. So, let’s start from the beginning.
What Are Identity Thefts?
By definition, identity theft is the act of taking on someone else’s identity without their permission. Most often, this is done by criminals for financial gain. Sometimes, it can serve to put the victim of a theft at a disadvantage, or even pure loss.
Whatever the reason of the theft, the consequences for the victim might vary from small annoyances, to completely ruining their life. They happen when someone gathers enough of another person’s private data. They can then assume their role and start using their name.
If this happens, the identity thief might decide to open credit cards by using their victim’s name, or steal their mail, access their accounts, and so on. Most of the time, this kind of thefts serve the purpose of committing fraud, or some other crime and passing the blame on the victim.
Noticing that your identity has been stolen is often not easy nor obvious, but there are a lot of signs that might indicate so, as we will discuss later in the text.
How Can Someone Steal Your Identity?
What is important to mention now is how can they occur? Well, as we mentioned previously, in order for someone to steal your identity, they need information. And that mostly includes private information.
In this day and age, pretty much everything about you is accessible through a computer. Because of this, a lot of privacy breaches can result in information theft, which can then lead to identity theft. The two often go together, and the thief can target personal data like login credentials, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and alike.
Because of this, it is important not to share any additional info online if you can avoid it in any way. Most people don’t realize this, and they are often too casual with their data. Sometimes, a thief won’t just bust in, collect the data and run away to study it in the same place. Instead, they will spend a lot of time observing the victim, and learning about them.
They will create a profile, learn the way the person thinks, find out what they like, who they spend time with, and other personal info. With all that in their possession, they might even guess your password and similar details.
Another method includes malicious software that you can download and install by accident. Hackers can leave it on a random, relatively busy website and wait for someone to pick it up.
Most of the time, however, they will have a targeted audience that they will try to trick via email. This is called a phishing attack. Basically, a hacker will pretend to be someone who you will trust, like a bank or similar service. They will then include a link, or a photo, document, or another type of attachment in the email.
When you open it, the malware will quietly sneak onto your device, activate itself, establish the connection to their hacker, and start feeding them data. Most of this will happen as a background process, so the victim won’t even know that something is going on.
Then, there is using old computers and phones that you may have thrown away and extracting data from them. Other methods include stealing documents, ‘shoulder-surfing‘, which means that someone is peeking while you are entering credentials, and even buying your stolen credentials on the dark web.
There are even more ways, but these are the main ones that you must watch out for the most.
The Types Of Identity Theft
Identity thefts are divided into several different categories. Those include:
- Identity cloning
- Criminal identity theft
- Synthetic identity theft
- Medical identity theft
- Financial identity theft
- Child identity theft
This is a type of identity theft that mostly doesn’t have financial gain as its goal, but rather an impersonation of someone else for hiding your own identity. Most of the time, this is the method that illegal immigrants use when they enter another country.
There is an entire process where someone’s identity is then stolen and false documents are given to the immigrant. He or she can then start a new life, but with someone else’s name.
Another subtype of identity cloning that you can often see online is called posing. Posers are those who use social networks to create a fake account and pretend to be someone else. Most of the time, they will create believable stories that will even involve friends of their victim. And if they happen to get personal info or credentials of their victim, the faking may last for years.
Criminal Identity Theft
This often happens when a criminal falsely identifies himself after being arrested by the police. They might have stolen ID that the owner did not report, or perhaps they simply use a pretty realistic fake ID. Either way, by using this method, they can often get away, while the victim of the identity theft gets the blame.
They can only discover that their identity was stolen after receiving fines, court summons, or finding out that their driver’s license is under suspension.
Either way, sorting things out is often very difficult, and sometimes even impossible. It is especially bad if there is major damage that you need to pay for. The damaged party doesn’t care if you are guilty or not, they want their money.
Synthetic Identity Theft
This is a newer type of identity theft which combines real and fake info. Basically, the criminal will steal name and birth date of one person, and combine them with a social security number of someone else.
This is also very hard to detect, because of this combination of data. The traces of the criminal’s activities will end up divided between two individuals whom they stole from. To make matters worse, these are always complete strangers who don’t know of each other’s existence and much less of their situation.
In these cases, those who suffer the most are those who criminal manages to trick. And, of course, the victims of the identity theft itself, since those are their names and information that will be connected with the crimes.
Medical Identity Theft
It is one of the most life-threatening forms of identity theft. It starts by someone stealing your identity and maybe even an insurance card. They will then pose as you in order to get free medical treatment.
Apart from having financial consequences, it can also result in adding wrong information to the victim’s medical record. Because of this, doctors may deliver inappropriate medical care. That is what makes this so dangerous, especially since such false data is very difficult to correct or even notice.
Financial Identity Theft
This is the type of identity theft most commonly met in a practical situation. It needs no special introduction since it is fairly simple and obvious what its point is. Basically, someone wants to steal another person’s identity in order to rob them of their money.
When they obtain enough info about the victim, identity thieves might get loans, credits, services, or goods. They might only collect the goods and send the bill to the victim. Alternatively, they might get a loan and pay for the goods, but then the victim has to pay back the original loan.
Either way, a lot of money can get lost, and someone will have to take the blame. More often than not, that someone will be the victim.
Child Identity Theft
Children are often a target for identity thieves because of their social security number.
With child’s identity, thieves can buy entire houses, establish lines of credit, and make similar frauds. If you were wondering how long can the effects of identity theft last, you won’t like the answer. This can last for years or even decades until the child grows up and tries doing something similar.
This is a growing problem that is very common, and it is very hard to deal with. The thief is often someone in the family who wishes to commit fraud, but sometimes, it is the family friend or even a complete stranger.
How To Tell If Someone Is Using Your Identity?
In many of these cases, you won’t feel the consequences until it is already too late. By that time, the damage is done, and the thief is long gone. Or worse, nearby, and waiting for things to calm down again.
However, there are often some small warnings and signs that not everything is as it should be, and this is what you need to watch out for. For example, you might start receiving credit card charges, when you know that you did not buy any of the mentioned goods.
Maybe you will receive a call about some suspicious activity, something that doesn’t seem like your regular behavior. Fraud control departments tend to watch out for things like that, and they might want to check in with you.
Sometimes you may even receive a new credit card, one that you did not even apply for. Next, you might notice that your money is often missing, or that you suddenly have less than you used to. Or you might notice that your regular mail is not arriving anymore.
Sometimes, you might get a court summon, or a fine in your mail. Weird bills that don’t apply to you, or for some services that you never use are also a sign that something is not right. Also, pay close attention to your yearly tax return, it might show that you are earning more than you actually do. This is another sign of an identity theft that you have to deal with.
Keeping track of these activities is very important. You must always be aware of something like this, and watch out for these signs. Now, since you are busy with your own responsibilities, you can always hire one of the specialized agencies to do it for you. There are many of them out there that you can trust with monitoring of your accounts.
For a small fee, these agencies will track your accounts’ activities, and try to discover any unusual occurrences. Anything that might seem suspicious or out of character will be recorded and reported to you. If you are the one responsible for the activity, the agency will simply continue monitoring the account as if nothing has happened. However, if you are a victim of an identity theft, you would like to know as soon as possible.
By using this method, you can ensure that you are never caught off-guard by the identity thieves. It can mean a lot if you manage to discover such problems as soon as they happen. Otherwise, it might take weeks, or even months before you notice that something is wrong. And, as usual, by the time you do find out that there is an issue, it is already too late to do anything.
These are the things that might ruin your life if you don’t pay attention to them, or hire someone else to do it for you.
Also, you can try and get your own credit reports from the credit reporting agencies, also known as credit bureaus. There are many of them, but the majority of the US citizens are mostly familiar with three of them. These are Equifax, Experian, and the TransUnion.
According to the law, you have the right to demand free credit report from each of them every year. You can exploit this right and regularly check your credit every four months, for example. You can do it more often, but it won’t stay free. Also, if you ever notice that there is an issue with your report, you can contact one of them and alert them. They will then notify the other two as well so that you don’t have to.
Instead, you can start contacting your banks and other institutions that should know about the problem. Here is the contact information for the three bureaus:
Experian – www.experian.com
- P.O. Box 2104
- Allen, TX 75013-0949
- 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Equifax – www.equifax.com
- P.O. Box 740241
- Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
TransUnion – www.transunion.com
- P.O. Box 1000
- Chester, PA 19022
Now, according to the US surveys from 2015 and 2016, the identity thefts felt a relatively noticeable increase. For example, in 2015, the identity fraud damage was around $15.3 billion, and the number of victims was around 13.1 million. However, only one year later, in 2016, the amount rose to $16 billion, and 15.4 million users falling victim
However, it seems that complaints concerning identity theft have increased a lot more in 2015 than in 2014. According to statistics, this increase is about astounding 47%.
What To Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
In case that you notice that your identity was stolen, or even if you only suspect that there is a possibility of it, you must do several things:
- Immediately contact credit reporting agencies’ fraud alert departments and tell them about your suspicions.
- Get in contact with everyone else, including banks, lenders, insurance companies. Raise alert at all costs.
- You have the right to a free credit report, which is basically a free identity theft check. Only wait a bit before asking for this, and give it time to include the latest reports.
- Notify the police, and file a report. It will serve as your proof that you are a victim of identity theft.
- Check your credit reports from time to time even after it seems that the suspicious activity has ended.
- Do what you can to help credit reporting agencies with removing thief’s activities from your credit report.
- Also, work with the credit card companies. You will have to cancel the existing card, and get a new one.
How To Protect Yourself?
The best way to protect yourself is to shield your data, and at the same time, hire an agency that will keep track of your activities. You may have to pay for this monitoring, but it doesn’t cost you that much.
However, in return, your credit reports, as well as everything else that might show signs of theft will be monitored. That way, if something suspicious happens, they can contact you immediately. This is the kind of thing where you must react as soon as you possibly can. Timing is everything.
Apart from that, watch out what you do with your old devices. This includes phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and pretty much any other device with any sensible data. You can’t just give them away or sell them to strangers. You need to do a proper clean-up first. And if you don’t know how then pay a professional.
And finally, use a VPN. VPNs are a great way to shield your data, and stop hackers from recording it. They can shield your connection, hide your activities, block malware and ads, and even make you completely anonymous.
Through the use of VPN, you will know that your data is not at risk of being recorded by a hacker. You will have your protection on any device, and that means that even public networks will become safe for you to use.
The best VPNs for your online protection are EpressVPN, IPVanish, and HideMyAss. They are all strong, capable, and perfectly safe for you to trust them. You can also go and look for another provider if these are not to your liking, but choose carefully. Not every VPN is equally good, nor this cheap.
ExpressVPN, for example, is one of the best providers in the industry. It has an excellent reputation when it comes to protecting its clients. With ExpressVPN, your data will have the strongest protection, which includes 256-bit encryption, and servers in over 77 countries.
It has a 30-day money return policy, great customer service, and offers multiple security protocols. It is also easy to use, even if you never had a VPN before. Many different features also follow along, but this is the most important part that you need.
IPVanish is equally as good when it comes to protection. However, it is even better when it comes to speed, which is its greatest feature. It is cheap, also easy to use, and it has over 850 servers, with a total of 40,000 IP addresses. Not to mention equally good encryption, as well as protocols that it offers for your protection.
Lastly, there is HideMyAss. This VPN has a large network with over 860 servers for you to use. In total, that is 110,000 IP addresses, which is actually even more than IPVanish. It is very affordable, with great customer service, and a very organized FAQ. It even offers a test tool, among other features. However, the most important ones are, once again, encryption and protocols. And they are as good as the rest of them.
Also, none of these three keep any logs of your activities, which also means that nobody can monitor you. Even if someone was to hack these providers, they wouldn’t have anything to steal.
Having your identity stolen is a realistic possibility for everyone, and you should treat it seriously. It can happen to you if you are not careful, and when it happens, you won’t even know until it is too late.
Take precautions and prevent thieves from hijacking your life and stealing your identity by protecting your data. They can’t get to you without your information, and the less of it gets exposed, the safer you are.
In the meanwhile, watch out for suspicious activities and potential signs of theft, and if you do notice something, react immediately. Even if it turns out that it is a false alarm, it is better to check than to have your life destroyed.