What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft has long been a problem in our country. From fake ID cards to thieves who steal personal correspondence in an effort to highjack one’s credit, identity theft is long from being a new trend. However, with the rise of the digital age, those strategies have fallen by the wayside, as new and sophisticated ways to commit identity theft online emerged.

While new methods to defraud Americans have certainly cropped up, the basics of identity theft have remained: Someone with bad intentions attempts to secure another person’s sensitive information — such as Social Security, bank account and credit card numbers — and uses that data to pose as that person, primarily to access financial resources. To fight against this trend, it’s important to understand how identity theft online is committed — especially in light of statistics from the Federal Trade Commission that more than 9 million Americans find themselves the victims of some form of identity theft every year.

There are a number of avenues criminals use to steal information digitally, with email being a primary source. Phishing is a rising trend in which scammers send emails disguised as coming from an actual organization — using standard logos, colors and language—and that trick users into entering sensitive information. Email messages may also contain malware that can attack a device and scan it for personal data. One of the best ways to safeguard against identity theft online is through a private email account, so messages are encrypted, and users can trust that only the intended sender and recipient have access to the email.

It’s also important to avoid public WiFi, which can be easily accessed by hackers, as well as rely only on strong passwords for all online accounts, none of which are the same and which you change frequently. Never click on any website that isn’t secured (it should have the prefix https, not http). Finally, be careful of how you discard old computers and devices; just like how scammers used to target trash and discarded mail to scan for possible sensitive information, those attempting to commit identity theft online can also use improperly secured old devices to scour for information.

While identity theft is a serious problem today, there are a number of steps Americans can take, along with practicing basic and sensible digital behaviors, to ensure their information and privacy are protected. Start today by signing up for a free email service from Reagan.com, to provide you the online safety you’re looking for.