Safeguarding Yourself Online: 3 Common Identity Theft Scams And How To Prevent Them

Technology, for all its glory, is not immune to attacks and being solely dependent on it almost always means you will get hit by a glitch or a breach at any point. According to reports, over 200 businesses have fallen victim to hackers in 2017 alone (and in the US alone). As tech developers scramble to build fortresses that aim to block off any attempts at identity theft, hackers are also getting smarter.

That said, even if your system tells you it’s hacker-proof, the responsibility to protect your personal data, like Social Security and credit card numbers, still lies upon you. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from identity theft and to prevent it from happening to you. But, first, let’s understand what identity theft means.

Identity Theft

Any unauthorized access to your personal details can be classified as identify theft. These can cover financial data like bank account numbers and credit card details, Social Security numbers, your birthdate and physical address. These can also include passwords and usernames to your online accounts, your phone, computer, and more. In short, the loss of anything that can be used to falsely represent you is considered identity theft.

When somebody gets hold of these details, they have the power to assume your identity and open new accounts, access financial resources, or basically pretend to be you. It can be very difficult to erase all the damage once your identity has been stolen. If you didn’t have safeguards in place, you could face major financial turmoil that could take years to recover from. Even if the theft had been proven, all the trouble that you need to go through to fix everything is exhausting.

Watch Out For These Common Scams

While you cannot totally shield yourself from hackers, you can certainly reduce the odds of you becoming a victim. We’ve gathered some of the most common identify theft scams so we can all spot a tactic when it attempts to hit us.

  1. Ransomware

This happens when a software encrypts your data and then asks you for payment to recover it. Ransomware attacks are doubly dangerous because not only do they have their hands on your identifying information, they are also asking you to pay them to give it back (if they even truly will). It’s literally getting your information kidnapped for ransom. Some ransomware can even lock you out of your operating system.

How do you spot it? Ransomware usually comes as a fake website form, a corrupt link or attachment sent via email, and other software vulnerabilities. Once the malware is opened, it needs mere minutes to take over the data on your computer.

How to prevent it? One way to shield yourself from an attack is to back up all your data periodically into the Cloud or an external hard drive. That way, when it does hit you, all its efforts will be for nothing because you already have copies. Another way is by turning off macros in MS Office and removing plug-ins like Java and Adobe Reader from your browser. If you do need these plug-ins, pre-set them to ask you first every time they launch.

  1. Phishing

Phishing is perhaps the most common scam online. It happens when somebody tries to steal your data by using a webiste or an email posing as the legitimate one. Usually, you’ll see a message that asks you to click a link to either verify your information or update it. The moment you click it, malware enters your computer, giving hackers the chance to spy on your online movements and access to anything of value in your PC. If you do “update” your details, they also get access to your financials.

How to prevent? Check all the emails sent to you before opening any attachment or clicking a link. Take note of the email addresses they use. Most phishing scams use emails that look very much the same as the legitimate ones but with one or two letters off. You have to be very thorough and meticulous with checks. Sometimes, instinct plays a major role in your protection. If you think an email is suspicious, don’t open it. Better yet, call the company by phone or contact them through an email you’ve used before to ask them if they did send that email. In short, when in doubt, don’t.

  1. Fake online protection plans

This scam capitalizes on your fear of becoming a victim of identity theft. Clever, right? You will sometimes see emails, pop-up messages, and sometimes get phone calls from companies that will offer identity theft protection services and antivirus software. These claims will usually start with telling you your computer has been compromised. They will promise to get rid of all the threats before any “damage” can occur. Because you’re hell bent on protecting yourself, it’s all too easy to just give them what they need. That’s when the problems start.

How to prevent? It pays to always be wary and suspicious of offers like these. Never open emails or popups that claim your PC has been hacked. You can also use ad-blockers to ward off any sneaky attempts to reach you. Finally, to avoid getting victimized and getting to that situation where you will need to get your computer cleaned up, just invest in reputable antivirus software that will regularly sweep your computer and protect it from malware.

Protecting Yourself

To protect yourself, understand that identity hackers are here to stay so you shouldn’t be too confident that your computer is totally protected. In fact, their methods are advancing and looking too close like the legitimate ones. The best way to ward them off is to be vigilant and to educate yourself with how they operate. You can also invest in identity theft protection but work only with credible and reputable service providers with a strong and proven track record. If you suspect that you have been attacked, report it to the bank and the authorities right away.

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