What is Identity Theft and How Can You Protect Yourself from It?

With the way computers are integrated into our daily lives, digital security is no longer something the average person can afford to ignore. Even if you’re not an active computer user, you still probably have at least the basic set of accounts that everyone has. A personal e-mail, a work one, some social media profiles, and one or more online banking accounts – all of this is information that could be used to potentially cause a lot of trouble for you.

Identity theft is a prevalent issue nowadays, and it’s easier than you might think to fall for some of the popular traps out there. There’s a reason why identity theft insurance is so popular right now – just check here for a review of Zander Insurance and their identity theft protection plan. You should never make the mistake of assuming that nobody will ever bother targeting you. The truth is that an identity thief is much more likely to target a random “nobody” than a high-profile person with lots of resources and connections. 

How Identity Theft Works

As the name implies, identity theft revolves around someone pretending that they’re you. What exactly they can accomplish through this impersonation varies depending on what kinds of accounts they’ve managed to compromise. Someone who has a copy of your ID, along with some details about your private life, can potentially open new bank accounts in your name and even take out loans, for example. If they have access to your e-mail or other forms of communication, they can ask your friends and relatives for quick loans, telling them it’s urgent.

There are many examples. The important point is, if you’re not careful about guarding your credentials, they might fall into the wrong hands – and this can have severe repercussions in some cases. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some things you can do to stay safe.

Don’t Reuse Passwords

Reusing passwords is by far one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your accounts. And yet it’s surprisingly common to see – even in people who should know better due to their experience. If just one of your accounts gets compromised, an attacker will then have easy access to everything else. And no, adding a random character somewhere in the password doesn’t qualify as using a different one. This is very easy to circumvent using modern password attack tools.

It can be annoying and difficult to remember dozens of different passwords, however. That’s why you should look into a password manager. There are many different ones on the market right now, like KeePass, 1Password and Bitwarden, and exploring their differences is beyond the scope of this article. The point is that these applications will generate secure, unique passwords for each site you’re using, and will even fill out the login fields for you. That way, you’ll only have to remember one password – the master one used for unlocking your password manager. 

Enable 2-Factor Authentication Everywhere You Can

Even keeping your passwords secure is not enough to prevent attackers from breaking into your accounts occasionally. Sometimes, they might be able to extract the information they need to log in through other means (for example, stealing browser cookies). That’s why you need to enable 2-factor authentication everywhere it’s supported. And that includes a large number of services these days.

The idea is that knowing your password alone won’t be enough to get into your accounts. You will be asked to explicitly verify access every time your account is used from a new, unfamiliar location. That way, the thief would have to both steal your password and get access to the 2FA device.

Learn About Phishing and Social Engineering

Phishing is one of the most common ways people get compromised these days. Attackers don’t need to rely on any advanced techniques or exploits if they can simply manipulate the account owner. These attacks can vary a lot. Phishing, for example, involves sending a message that looks like it comes from a legitimate source (like your bank), telling you that there’s something wrong with your account and inviting you to log in and fix the problem.

It can get more sophisticated than that though. Attackers might sometimes contact you personally, pretending to be someone else. They will often try to exploit basic human emotions to get what they want. Respect for authority and fear of failure is a common example. They might pretend to be a law enforcement officer investigating a crime and threaten you with consequences if you don’t comply and provide certain information. Or they may pretend to be a family member in distress in urgent need of money.

You have to be wary of all these interactions, and always question if there might be an ulterior motive behind them. Don’t let someone manipulate you into doing something you normally wouldn’t in a calmer situation.

Make It a Habit to Lie About Yourself Online

This might sound like a weird one, but it’s something more people should be doing. No, we don’t mean lying to your close ones and the people you care about. Rather, you should try to sprinkle some harmless untruths in your various profiles. This can throw off someone trying to gather information about you in an attempt to build a profile. For example, if you frequently post on reddit or a similar forum-type site, casually mention that you’re from the wrong hometown (or even country). Talk about hobbies and interests that have nothing to do with you in reality. Lie about your age, even your gender where it applies.

As long as you don’t do that with any malicious intent (like catfishing someone), there’s no harm in it. The worst that could happen is that you might have to explain a couple of things to a close relative who accidentally stumbles upon one of your profiles.

It’s unfortunate that we have to take so many extra steps to stay safe on the internet these days, but that’s just the reality of the current situation. The freedom that the Web provides is a double-edged sword, and you have to be careful with how you’re sharing your information and what kinds of places you’re visiting.

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