They say don’t wait until identity theft happens to you. But who does identity theft actually happen to? Well, there were over 1.7 million fraud reports in 2019. And scammers aren’t picky when it comes to potential victims — with cases spanning every segment of society — rich and poor, young and old, every color, code, and creed.
In short, if you have a social security number, you’re vulnerable. Or an address, email, tax documents, medical records, the list goes on. It only takes one piece of information to put you at risk.
However, while practically everyone with personal information (read: everyone) is a target, certain characteristics and behaviors do make you more susceptible to fraud, scams, and other tricks in this type of criminal’s ever-growing arsenal.
So which groups are the most at risk? The answers may surprise you.
Target 1. The young, naïve, and innocent.
Yes, children. You may think it’s counterintuitive to steal a child’s identity. After all, a child has no wealth or assets of their own. There’s nothing of value to steal — except, of course, their identity itself.
But the reason children are so often victims of identity theft is shockingly simple. It’s an unused social security number — and no one is monitoring it. In fact, children are 51% more likely than adults to have their identity stolen.
In the wrong hands, even a minor’s social security number and personal information can open accounts or obtain credit. It’s also a crime that may go unnoticed for years — that is, until your child tries to rent their first apartment or apply for a loan.
TIP: If you have kids, it’s never too young to enroll them in your identity protection plan. See if your identity protection service offers a family plan that lets you enroll all your children at a lower monthly cost.
Target 2. The most “tech-savvy” generations.
We often think of identity theft as a problem that primarily affects the elderly. There’s no way those of us who grew up with an internet connection at our fingertips could be more likely to get fooled by the likes of cybercriminals. Right? Wrong.
The stats don’t lie. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 33% of people age 20 to 29 reported a fraud loss, and another 23% of people age 30 to 39. Meanwhile, no age group over 60 topped 15%.
How could this be? Perhaps that constant state of connectivity isn’t better for your identity. The more you share online, the more you’re inherently at risk of sharing something you shouldn’t. And if you spend more time you online, you probably share more too.
Things you don’t give a second thought to can actually reveal a lot of detail — like the answer to your one of your security questions in a #TBT post to that throwback photo of your first make and model car.
TIP: Be careful both what you share AND where you share — even on “private” social media. Not only should you watch out for the content of the things you share online (nothing with your personal information, obviously), skip any sketchy, free wifi networks that might save you a buck. Don’t risk it for the ‘gram. It’s not worth it.
Target 3. Wealthy, successful, and otherwise very capable individuals.
More money, more problems. It’s true — at least in terms of identity theft. It makes logical sense that having more money also puts a larger target on your bank accounts and other assets. Higher education levels also lead to higher income levels.
So it’s no surprise that, according to data from the AARP, people with college degrees or post-graduate work were “significantly more likely” to fall victim to ID theft vs. those with a high school diploma or less education. Similarly, people with incomes over $50,000 were more likely to be identity theft victims than those who make less than $50,000.
But it’s not just perceived wealth that makes someone a target. There’s the unseen risk of a larger data footprint. The wealthier you are, the longer data trail you tend to leave — as far as where you shop, how you shop, and where you keep your money. It usually means more purchases, more accounts, and lines of credit open in your name.
Wealth can also become a wealth of information — and it adds up to a lot to keep track of.
TIP: Don’t take shortcuts to keep your information straight. Take the time to use different passwords for each account (or else one mistake could do serious damage). Also, be sure you’re checking your account transactions and recent purchases across all your accounts and cards. The more activity you have, the easier it is for fraudulent transactions to fly under the radar.
Target 4. Those who serve (especially abroad).
Military life presents its own unique set of challenges beyond that of civilians — identity theft is no exception. While military personnel look out for our nation’s security, too often no one is looking out for their information security. Or worse, people take advantage of their prolonged absence from home.
The FTC’s “Consumer Protection Data Spotlight” reports that active-duty service members are 76% more likely to have their existing accounts (including bank accounts and credit cards) misused. They’re also 22% more likely to have their identity stolen to open a new account.
TIP: Leaving behind friends and family in the name of duty is tough enough, without having to worry about leaving behind your important documents and financial information. Check out MilitaryConsumer.gov for identity protection tips and resources tailored specifically for service members and their families.
Target 5. The new world of Work-From-Homers.
COVID-19 marked a change in lifestyle for many Americans. This “new normal” can make us vulnerable in new ways. And identity theft is perhaps the only thing the pandemic didn’t slow down. Since March 2020, the FTC has already reported more than 139,500 fraud reports related to COVID-19 alone, resulting in nearly $200 million in total fraud loss.
As we evolve, scammers get more sophisticated too — they meet us where we are. People who work from home (WFHers) do more of their work, shopping, and leisure online. Now identity thieves are targeting home networks, which are often less secure than corporate networks and have more open entry points.
The rise in unencrypted video conferencing coupled with login breaches also creates more opportunity for fraud. Not to mention, we’re checking our inboxes more than ever for updates and trusted sources of information, where spoofs and lookalikes can open the door to phishing scams.
TIP: Use your company VPN (virtual private network) if possible, especially when dealing with any sensitive information. It helps secure a public or personal internet connection and encrypt both your information and online activity. Just be sure not to do anything on your work computer or network that you wouldn’t do on your mom’s computer.
Remember, no one is off-limits for identity thieves. It’s not who you are. It’s how careful you are. There’s no time like right now to start taking a little extra care with your identity. Once you lose it, it’s a whole lot tougher to get your life back to normal.