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Identity theft: why oversharing your data online could put your quality of life in jeopardy


The repercussions of having your identity stolen could be huge, and aren't necessarily just monetary.

Identity theft is a form of digital fraud where a criminal not only steals your data but also impersonates you with it. Impersonators then use stolen social security numbers, passports, or bank details to do whatever they want.

A Gallup poll found that 67% of respondents admitted to being afraid of identity theft. After all, statistics show that active social media users are 30% more likely to fall prey to identity fraud.

For those with Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram accounts that percentage rises to 46%. With their personally identifiable information (PII) on the surface, it's easy to steal it and assume the victim's identity. This is why data theft targets this information first.

Fraudsters don't even need that much information to go with. Any two or three out of this list will allow them to figure out most of the relevant data about you.

Over 42 million people in the US fell victim to identity theft last year, at a total cost of more than $53 billion. That’s a mean average of more than $1,000 per victim.

Worst-case scenario

In one of the worst cases that finally went to trial in 2016, an identity thief lived under a stolen persona for 26 years.

The impersonated victim lost his driver's license, house, and even his family, while racking up a serious criminal record for crimes he didn't commit. For decades, he was harassed by loan sharks. Eventually, he cleared his name, but that's perhaps the scariest part of digital fraud: not everyone does.

Back in 2010, another case of identity theft quickly cost a Maryland citizen close to $1 million. David Crouse, 56, lost his retirement savings and ended up owing on a debt he expected would take at least five years to clear. It is not known what happened to the man in the end, but even after publicizing the identity theft, criminals continued using his identity around the country.

And while these cases are some of the worst ones, even the mild ones have proved devastating.

Not even celebrities can avoid identity theft. In 2014, a 19-year-old boy was convicted for running an identity fraud scam. He had PII on multiple celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Tom Cruise, and Paris Hilton.

But both cases happened years ago, when identity thieves had to hack or actively steal data to do their crimes. Today, you might end up giving your PII away yourself.

Beware of phishers

Phishing emails have become one of the ways identity fraud is perpetrated. Threat actors behind these will pose as credible entities, asking you to fill out a form or click on a link. This will often lead you to a fake website designed to steal your data.

Another attack vector prevalent today is malware. Not so long ago, a Trojan variant called Emotet was found secretly gathering and transferring credit card data from Google Chrome. One can imagine how much more data such a virus could extract from activity on the popular browser if left unchecked.

A weak password can also often negate identity-theft protection. Data shows that six-to-eight character passwords, even those including numbers as well as letters, can take mere seconds to crack. Once a password falls into a cybercriminal's hands, data will follow.

Of course, let's not forget about data breaches. One more Facebook data leak, and the dark web will be flooded with personal data. The harshest part is that this information is laughably cheap for criminals. Social security number? Up to $8. Digital passport scan? Only $15 apiece. Potential damages? Those are rated in the thousands on average.

One factor is common across cybercrime cases featuring malware, weak passwords, and phishing: lack of knowledge. Identity-theft victims are often ill-informed and therefore ill-prepared when it comes to protecting their data.

Make sure you use two-factor authentication. Consider investing in cybersecurity software, such as antivirus programs, password managers, or virtual private networks (VPNs). Antiviruses will take care of malware, managers can reduce the risk of your passwords being cracked, and VPNs provide secure browsing connections.

That said, you should always be careful of any third-party software you install. And, of course, remember to manage your privacy settings on social media.


More from Cybernews:

Synthetic ID fraud: who does it hurt the most?

Reports highlight the astronomical cost of ID theft

Most Americans don't feel safe online

Cybercriminals opt for deepfakes to apply for remote jobs

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