Recent identity theft cases and statistics prove our worst fears about identity theft: it’s widespread, it’s damaging and it’s not going away.
So what can we do? Be vigilant and careful, and learn from what’s going on to protect oursselves. If ever you are a victim, the time it takes to resolve identity theft can vary greatly based on how you handle it.
With that in mind, I’ve looked at some of the largest recent data breaches as well as recent identity theft cases to bring together four lessons that could help keep you safe in a world where, let’s face it, this is going to continue to be part of the picture.
Lesson 1: No company is too big to get hacked
If you think that you can protect your data by only providing it to large, reputable companies, think again. That’s not to say that many or most large companies don’t do a great job protecting your data. Many do. But this won’t guarantee that your data is safe.
Earlier this year, EasyJet revealed that around nine million customer email addresses were accessed in a major data breach. The attackers also accessed credit card details for thousands of EasyJet customers.
I don’t have intimate details of EasyJet’s data security procedures. But I’m willing to bet that data at the airline is a lot more secure than your average family-run business website.
The point is, just because you’ve only given your data to large, reputable companies, that does not mean that you can lay off personal data security best practices like using secure passwords, changing your passwords periodically and checking accounts and credit reports regularly for irregularities.
Lesson 2: Older individuals are often at higher risk
Age UK published some eye-opening statistics, showing, among other things, that those aged 55 and older lost more than £4 million to cyber fraud between April 2018 and March 2019.
And though technology has allowed older individuals to keep in better contact with loved ones during the pandemic, the pandemic has equally been providing new opportunities for identity theft and other identity fraud. As Age UK wrote:
The majority of fraud linked to coronavirus involves online purchases for personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, that never arrive. Criminals have also been sending phishing emails and texts claiming to be from the Government, HMRC and health bodies to convince the recipient to open links or attachments and get them to reveal personal or financial information.
If you are 55 or older, that means that you need to be on the lookout. Scammers think you are an easy mark. Prove them wrong!
Be especially wary of entering personal information after following a link directly from an email. If there’s any reason for suspicion, you can go directly to the company or organisation’s website and start from there. You can also call the company or organisation (using a phone number on their website, not one from the email) to confirm that the email is valid.
Rarely will a company call you out of the blue and ask for your account details or passwords – be especially wary if you receive such a call. And of course, use secure passwords for all of your accounts and change them often.
You can read more about some specific examples of credit card fraud and steps you can take to avoid credit card fraud in the UK. There are also ways to check if you’ve been the victim of identity theft if you’re concerned something has already happened.
If you’re younger, this all still applies to you. But you can also help by speaking with your older relatives or friends and making sure they understand personal information security practices.
Lesson 3: No business is too small to get hacked
No business is too big to get hacked. But equally, no business is too small. This is particularly relevant to keep in mind if you are a small business owner.
Yes, larger businesses have more accounts and information for a hacker to steal. But hackers, fraudsters and scammers may see small businesses as easy targets. That’s why we see reports of individual medical offices, small universities and small manufacturers getting hit by cyber attacks. And even smaller businesses than that are absolutely getting attacked, but it simply doesn’t hit the headlines.
Having your customer data leaked to scammers is embarrassing. But it can also have a severe impact on the trust that your current customers and potential future customers have in you. That means that small businesses shouldn’t skimp on their data protection systems.
It also means they need to properly educate their employees. Many of the largest data leaks have been the result not of sophisticated hacking, but of behavioural engineering and scammers using low-tech methods to get employees to hand passwords and access information over to them.
Lesson 4: Identity-theft scammers are not always who you expect
In a recent identity theft case that is as funny as it is anything else, rapper Nuke Bizzle was arrested in Las Vegas in the U.S. after allegedly using stolen identities to falsely apply for pandemic-related unemployment aid. The rapper may have cheated the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more than a million.
And the funny part? He was caught, in part, because he rapped about this alleged identity theft in a song that he uploaded to YouTube (complete with video of him showing off envelopes from the California Employment Development Department).
But the lesson here is that if you have an image of an identity scammer as some geeky person in a dark room in front of a computer, you need to think again. That may describe some of these criminals, but there are also people, and full organisations, of scammers that look, sound and behave differently than you might assume.
Remember that just because someone looks or talks a particular way, that’s no reason to automatically trust them!
Protect yourelf from identity theft, then protect your future
Making sure that your identity and accounts are secure is of utmost importance. If they’re not secure, what you’ve worked hard for could be at risk of getting swiped by scammers.
Once you’ve secured your accounts, you can get back to focusing on building those accounts, and ensuring you’re prepared for the future, come what may.
If you have an emergency cash fund already saved and are financially stable, maybe explore investing your money.
With savings interest rates being the lowest they have been for years, it is hard to get any decent type of return on your money at the moment. However, there is the potential to achieve higher growth on your savings pot if you take out a stocks and shares ISA or open a share dealing account.
Investments do carry more risk, but if you are not planning on using that cash in the medium term, you could find yourself making more significant gains than if you just put your money in an instant access savings account.
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