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Reports highlight the astronomical cost of ID theft


With most of us spending more time online than ever before, cybercriminals have made hay. Ironically, their profits are compounded by a generally unwarranted sense of self-confidence in our ability to protect ourselves from identity theft.

Recent data from the Federal Trade Commission reveals that identity theft has mushroomed in the past year. Indeed, of the 4.7 million reports of fraud received during 2020, identity theft was the most common grievance.

Of the incredible 1.4 million reports of identity theft during the year, the most common was the misuse of information for the application for government benefits, with over 400,000 such cases reported.

It’s a finding echoed by the sixth annual Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report, which revealed the extent of cybercrime across Europe in the past year. The report reveals that around 15 million people were victims of cybercrime in the UK alone during 2020, with the average Brit spending over 4 hours trying to resolve any issues caused by the attacks. This adds up to over 64 million hours spent dealing with the consequences of cybercrime, which Norton suggests resulted in £2.7 billion in financial losses.

Emotional toll

Aside from the significant time and money that has been lost in dealing with cybercrime, identity theft carries a clear emotional burden that often goes unaddressed. For instance, many victims report feelings of anger, stress, vulnerability, and of being violated by the attack.

“The stress of cybercrime adds up over time. This is particularly true for identity theft, where fraudsters steal your personal information to take over existing or open new bank accounts or commit serious crimes under your name. Victims of identity theft often suffer the consequences for years. For the 2 million Brits impacted by identity theft in the past 12 months alone, this means a lifetime of vigilance for suspicious activity on their accounts or against their name,” the authors explain.

The situation is compounded by a generally unwarranted sense of self-confidence in our ability to protect ourselves from attack.

The Norton data reveals that while 62% of us are concerned about our identity being stolen, a similar number feel that they’re well protected from attack.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that there isn’t considerable scope for improvement, with over three-quarters of respondents saying they would like more information on what they should do to both protect themselves from attack and respond in the wake of an attack.

Protected from attack

Norton reveals a number of things we can all do to help protect ourselves from identity theft:

  • Own our online presence. Make sure we read and understand the terms and conditions of the services we sign up for online. We should also set the security and privacy settings to a level that matches our comfort level and strive to fully understand how our information, whether that’s financial information, our mobile number, or our location, is shared online.
  • Think before we click. Having a natural degree of caution when we operate online is useful, especially when it comes to unusual emails and texts, or direct messages on social media. If we stay vigilant about such messages, especially if they ask for immediate action or offer us things that are too good to be true, then it’s an invaluable wall of protection.
  • Prevention is better than cure. It’s much better to prevent ID theft from occurring than reacting once it has. Norton advises us to keep a close eye on our financial accounts and even on things such as our utility bills. If we spot any unusual or unrecognized activity then check immediately with our service provider. It’s even possible to set up fraud alerts on our credit report or establishing monitoring against our personal data being leaked online.

Responding to attacks

While prevention is undoubtedly better than cure, there are nonetheless a number of steps you can take should you suffer from ID fraud:

  • Contact the authorities. The first step is to make sure you report the attack to the relevant authorities, your financial service provider, and/or to organizations such as Action Fraud. Banks will have dedicated fraud departments to deal with this kind of situation so will be able to ensure things don’t get out of hand. Depending on what other information might have been captured in the attack, such as social security numbers, you may also need to contact other agencies.
  • Trigger your identity theft protection policy. If you have identity theft protection, then the second step is to ensure they are contacted and given details of the attack. They’ll be well placed to ensure you regain access to any accounts that have been compromised.
  • Report the crime to the police. Even if you believe your attack was small and insignificant, reporting it to the police can help to stop similar attacks on other people in the future. This also creates a paper trail that will assist if there is any future investigation of the fraud. In the United States, ID theft should also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission, which keeps data on ID theft.
  • Check your credit rating. If you discover that your identity has been stolen, then it’s quite probable that multiple accounts will be affected. An efficient way of checking for any anomalies on those accounts is via a credit check.

The emotional turmoil we experience when we suffer from identity theft is often triggered by the panic that is our instinctive response. This can make it difficult to determine just what to do next. There are things you can do, however, both to limit the damage identity theft causes and to reduce the chances of it happening again. If you take one thing from a pandemic that has seen cybercrime soar, make it that you will bolster your own cyber defences and make it less likely that you’re a victim of cybercrime in the future.

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