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You’ve probably heard about identity theft quite a bit — in this digital age, it’s hard not to. And if you’ve never seen a fraudulent charge on your credit card bill, had a mysterious drop in your credit score, or started getting random medical bills in the mail (for services you didn’t get), consider yourself lucky!
But let’s back up. If you’re re-reading the above sentence and asking yourself — Wait, fraudsters can really do that? — the answer is yes. (And so much more.)
It’s important to be aware of what these cybercriminals can do with your information so you know what to look for and where you might be vulnerable. Keep reading to learn more. It’s never too early (or too late) to protect yourself from fraud!
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when your personal information — name, birthday, Social Security number, or bank and credit card numbers — is stolen by cybercriminals who can financially gain from it by opening accounts, lines of credit, or selling your information on the dark web.
If you think that identity theft could never happen to you — think again. Consider these statistics from recent years:
- 4.7 million reported identity theft cases
- $3.3 billion total fraud losses
- 44% of people age 20-29 reported losing money to fraud
How can fraudsters get your information?
Fraudsters will do just about anything to get your information. But even if you have super-secure passwords, access the internet through a VPN (Virtual Private Network), and check your credit report religiously, what’s rightfully yours can end up in the wrong hands. A few common ways fraudsters get your information:
A data breach
Stolen mail or W-2s (yes, they will dumpster dive)
Unsecured and public WiFi hotspots
Social Security numbers that have been lost, stolen, or compromised
What can fraudsters do with your information?
Here are five ways fraudsters can use your information for their own gain — at your expense.
Open credit cards or take out loans in your name.
If cybercriminals have your name, Social Security number, birthday, and address, they can open credit cards or apply for loans in your name. Yep — it’s that easy.
This is why checking your credit report regularly is so important. No, you don’t need to request a new report every day in fear of fraud, but enrolling in an identity protection plan like this one (that offers three-bureau credit monitoring*!) means you’ll be alerted right away* if something suspicious is detected.
File your tax return — and take your refund.
Tax identity theft is when someone uses your personal information (namely your Social Security number) to file a tax return in your name — which means they intercept your much-anticipated tax refund.
Filing your tax returns as early as possible is the easiest way to avoid tax identity theft so that an identity thief doesn’t get to file in your name first.
Cover medical treatments.
Fraudsters who steal your information don’t always see it as an opportunity to go on a shopping spree on your dime. They can also use it to receive medical treatment using your health insurance account number and Social Security number.
Make sure to always review your medical bills and insurance statements and check if the claim description matches the healthcare you received. More importantly, make sure to clear up these discrepancies with your doctors so that the thief's medical information isn’t mixed up with yours.
Take flights with your airline miles.
To many people, airline miles are as valuable as cash, hoarding them until they can finally take that exotic family vacation. Unless, you know, a fraudster gets to them first.
Make sure to routinely check your airline loyalty account(s) and double-check that your password is unique. If it’s an option, consider adding two-factor authentication to your account too. (So that you can get a text or email with a one-time code every time you log in for an extra layer of protection.)
And though Instagramming your boarding pass might get you a ton of likes, it could give a hacker the missing information they need to access your account. (Even if your social media is private.)
Open utility accounts.
Paying your utility bill probably isn’t the most exciting way to spend your money. What’s worse? Paying someone else’s utility bill.
That’s right — hackers are pretty crafty. With your Social Security number, they can open an account with an electric, gas, or phone company.
They also are known to call you and pretend to be the utility company, letting you know that you didn’t pay last month’s bill. If you get one of these calls, verify as much as you can — your payment info, the company’s phone number, even a security PIN you set up when the account was opened — to make sure you’re not getting caught in a scam. You can also hang up and call your utility company back to ensure you’re really talking to them.
How can you prevent identity theft?
Preventing identity theft takes some planning and diligence, but it is much easier than recovering from it. (In extreme cases, people have had to declare bankruptcy to start fresh with their financial and credit history.)
Use different passwords. For each and every social media, online banking, or shopping account.
Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when you’re online. VPNs can guard against hackers on public networks because they hide your IP address, browsing activity, and personal data.
Check your credit report. Did you know? Every American is entitled to a free copy of their credit report from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every 12 months. You can request your free credit report here.
Consider identity theft protection with internet surveillance. We’re biased to our three tiers of identity protection plans we have in partnership with Experian®. Each features 24/7 credit monitoring (including internet surveillance to identify if your information is being sold on the dark web), lost wallet protection, 24/7 accessible support, and complete identity restoration in the case of identity theft or a data breach — starting at just $8 a month. Kasasa Protect Premium, the ultimate identity protection tier, can even cover you and up to 10 dependent family members, so you have control over the kind of protection that works best for you and your loved ones. Plus, it offers up to $1 million in identity theft insurance if the unexpected were to happen. (Not a bad figure to keep in your back pocket, right?)
Are you surprised to see just how crafty these criminals can be? Knowing what they’re after can make you a smart internet surfer — and when you’re backed by an identity protection plan powered by Experian®, a safe one too.
*Applicable for Kasasa Protect Plus and Kasasa Protect Premium packages only.