Your personal identity is your most precious resource. Personally identifiable information (PII), like your full name, birthdate, social security number, contact info and payment data, helps define you to the rest of society — and if someone else gets ahold of your PII, they can cause irreparable damage to your finances and your future.

How cyber criminals steal identities online

Most often, identity thieves operate online, where they function semi-anonymously to scam unwitting users out of valuable personal information. Because identity theft can result in harm for years to come, you need to know about all the ways that cybercriminals are stealing identities online and how to avoid succumbing to them.

1. Phishing

Phishing is perhaps the simplest form of online attack, but it continues to be among the most effective. Phishing attacks can follow various formats, from legitimate-looking emails from companies to direct messages from strangers on social media, but they always involve requests for sensitive information, like account passwords and personal social security numbers. To avoid succumbing to phishing attacks, you should practice good cyber hygiene, such as avoiding clicking links in emails and social media messages and verifying a message’s accuracy before following its requests.

2. Data Breaches

More and more cybercrime is targeting businesses because businesses tend to store excessively large amounts of valuable data on their devices and networks. While there is little that you can do to increase the security of organizations, you can limit the amount of sensitive information you give to insecure companies. You should avoid submitting more than absolutely necessary to make accounts with businesses, and if a business cannot give a suitable reason for requesting certain types of information, like your social security number, you might opt not to use that company’s services. Then, to keep track of your information amidst security breaches, you might use an internet security suite that offers ID theft protection, which will track your data across the web.

3. Malware

Long gone are the days when hooligans developed malware for laughs. Today, malware tends to be a highly sophisticated tool that allows cybercriminals to gain access to your network, devices and data, which they will steal for their own benefit. Different types of malware compromise the security of your identity in different ways, so you should strive to avoid malware altogether with comprehensive security across your digital systems and smart cyber hygiene.

4. Hacking

Hackers access your devices and data not through specially designed computer programs but by taking advantage of insecure connections. When you use a public network, like a Wi-Fi connection in a coffee shop, without adequate protections, hackers can easily infiltrate your device and access your data. You should avoid public networks whenever possible, and if you absolutely must log onto a public network, you should use a virtual private network to thwart hackers.

5. Searching Social Media

Sometimes, cybercriminals do not need to launch any kind of attack to obtain the information they need to steal identities. Social media tends to encourage users to share personal information, which savvy thieves can collect and use to access various online accounts. Sometimes, users overshare so significantly that identity theft is possible just through the readily available info on social media pages and posts. Right now, you should delete any personally identifiable information on your social media pages, to include your full name, your birthdate, your home address and more, and you should avoid posting this kind of content going forward.

6. Weak Passwords

In 2023, the most common passwords are as follows:

  • 123456
  • qwerty
  • password
  • 1111111

Many cybercriminals will run through lists of the most common passwords or use easily discovered information like kids’ names and birthdates to brute-force their way into users’ online accounts. From there, they can perpetrate identity theft with ease. You should change your passwords to use strong combinations of letters and characters that no one will be able to guess, using a secure password manager to keep track of your complex codes.

Steal personal data from discarded devices

7. Discarded Devices

Your old devices contain astonishing amounts of information about you. If you donate your old computers or phones, identity thieves can retrieve your old data with relative ease. You need to be careful to erase your old devices fully, eradicating all evidence of yourself, before you allow your devices to leave your ownership. With some exceedingly old devices, it might be safest to remove the hard drive or destroy the device rather than allow the possibility of lingering data to fall into the wrong hands.

In every corner of the web, criminals are lurking in the hopes of stealing your data and absconding with your identity. You need to take precautions to keep your data safe, which means avoiding the above ways that identity thieves operate.

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