Identity theft might seem like the punchline to a joke, but in reality, it is a devastating crime that can impact victims for the rest of their lives. Identity theft occurs when criminals gain access to an individual’s identifying information: their name, birthdate, address, payment account numbers, social security number and more. With this information, a criminal can drain bank accounts, commit tax fraud, apply for all manner of loans and otherwise wreck their victim’s financial present and future. But — how does a criminal go about getting that information in the first place?
Unfortunately, many victims of identity theft make one or more simple, dumb mistakes that result in the exposure of their own information. Here are a few of those dumb mistakes, so you can avoid them and keep your identity safe.
Posting Info on Social Media
Social media is a veritable playground for identity thieves, who don’t have to exert much effort at all to find exceedingly useful private information about an individual. Social media is bursting with full, legal names, birthdates, addresses and phone numbers as well as names of kids, pets, schools and workplaces. What’s more, plenty of people post regular updates about their lives, giving thieves to-the-minute details of their holiday purchases, their vacation itineraries, their medical diagnoses and more.
As tempting as it might be to share your life with your loved ones online, you should try to keep the personal details to a minimum. Because cybercriminals can easily hack social media profiles, even setting your profile to private won’t protect you. You might consider choosing a variation of your name, deleting identifiable information and posting pictures or status updates not in real time.
Carrying Your Social Security Card
Your social security card is an extremely important document, and you certainly need to know your social security number to fill out important forms for housing, employment, social programs and more. However, you don’t want to keep your social security card on your person — and you certainly don’t want to store it in your purse or wallet.
Petty criminals with light fingers can easily snatch your belongings when you are out and about, either when you are not paying close attention to your stuff or by violently taking your things by force. Though they might be looking for cash or credit cards, most won’t hesitate to make good use of your social security number by applying for credit cards, trying to get hold of your tax refund and committing identity fraud in other ways. To keep yourself safe, you should store your social security card in a safe at home alongside your birth certificate, health records, professional licenses and other important documents.
Telling Personal Information to Strangers
You are a chatty person, and you like to get to know the people you encounter throughout your day. However, there is a difference between engaging in some light chitchat and divulging deeply personal secrets to potentially malicious strangers. Whenever you are talking to someone you don’t know — regardless of whether that is on the bus, on the phone or online — you need to avoid bringing up topics that could lead to the theft of your identity. Especially if the stranger tries to ask probing questions, like your mother’s maiden name or the name of your financial institution, you should be wary of the potential of identity theft and keep your personal details private.
Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t avoid divulging personal information. Telehealth services, job hunting websites and other digital media demand some sensitive details about your life, and sometimes, these databases get hacked and your private data becomes available to identity thieves on the Dark Web. To help you combat this, you can sign up for identity theft protection services, which will monitor your most sensitive details and notify you if you are likely to become the victim of identity theft.
Using Public Wi-Fi
Free and readily available Wi-Fi networks are available in all manner of public settings, from airports and coffee shops to public transit and community parks. Unfortunately, though public Wi-Fi might be convenient, it is far from safe. Savvy cybercriminals know how to manipulate their network connections to infiltrate the other devices that utilize the same Wi-Fi, which means as soon as you log onto a public network, all the data on your device could be seen and taken without your knowledge or consent.
The only safe way to use a public Wi-Fi network is through a virtual private network (VPN), which encrypts your data and disguises the location of your device, making it essentially impossible for lurking thieves to access your information.
Most identity thieves are lazy and take advantage of the easiest targets — which might include you. The fewer dumb mistakes you make with your personal data, the safer you will be from identity theft.