By Paul Elfner, CFP®, MSFS
We are fortunate to live in a technologically advanced age where we can video chat loved ones all over the world, order products without leaving the couch, and scroll endless feeds of information through social media. All this is not without compromise as cyber criminals lurk all over the web and personal devices targeting their next victims. Hardly a week goes by without hearing about another security breach or scam.
What is identity theft? Identity theft can take many forms and occurs when someone gets ahold of your personal information (i.e. date of birth, Social Security number, credit card information, account logins and passwords) and makes it available to others. This information can then be used to apply for credit in your name, gain access to your bank account, or file an income tax return refund in your name. According to the FTC’s 2018 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, the Sentinel received 1.4 million fraud reports in 2018 resulting in $1.48 billion dollars in losses. That’s an average loss of $1,000 per victim! In addition to fraud reports, the Sentinel also received over 400,000 identity theft reports with the most commonly reported crime being credit card fraud.
How do hackers obtain your personal information? Sometimes your private information is made public through a data breach that is out of your control, but often hackers will attempt to fool you into sharing your private information. A common scheme is phishing, which occurs when a cybercriminal sends an email or text message with an attachment or link hoping you will open it. The attachment or link may download a virus or malware onto your device that can allow hackers to monitor your online web traffic and potentially gain access to your accounts. Approach these communications with caution before providing any personal information or login credentials as they often appear as if they are from legitimate companies or even people posing as your friends, family members, or coworkers.
Another growing threat involves scammers posing as government employees who call people with the intention of obtaining personal information. They often claim there is a problem with your account and need you to verify your identity. Please note, the IRS and Social Security Administration will not contact you by phone unless by your request, as their preferred contact method is regular mail.
Other common avenues for hackers include public Wi-Fi hotspots or unsecured wireless networks, such as coffee shops, airports, and hotels. If possible, avoid using these networks and instead use a personal hotspot on your phone or other device.
For tips on how to prevent identity theft, please see our checklist on Securing Your Identity and Financial Information at our website, www.domaniwealth.com/identity-theft. Should you have any questions or comments related to this article, please contact us at (717) 393-9721.
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