There are many ways in which identity thieves can steal personal information from their victims. Despite the fact that major data breaches often garner the most media/public attention, you are actually more likely to fall victim to identity theft by making a small mistake. For example, a con artist might be able to trick you into giving them personal information about yourself. Therefore, you can’t afford to let your guard down when it comes to protecting your personal data. Here are some of the most common and surprising ways that consumers fall victim to identity theft.
1. Phishing Scams
Internet security software and firewalls make it harder for identity thieves to infect computing devices with malware that can steal data from users. However, just because hackers can’t steal information directly from your computer, it doesn’t mean that they can’t deceive you into sharing your personal data with them over the Internet. Many online users fall victim to phishing scams that look like genuine requests for information from legitimate organizations. For example, a scammer might send you an email message that looks like it’s on the up and up. Email phishing scams often contain a link for you to click on that takes you to a site requesting information. The information requested could include things like login credentials to online accounts, as well as asking you to confirm personal details about yourself. You should never share login credentials or personal information about yourself unless you are absolutely (100%) sure that it’s a legitimate request for information. One trick is to ‘Google’ an email address to see what kind of results show up. Oftentimes, other users will share stories about someone trying to scam them. If someone claims to represent an organization that you do business with, find their phone number and contact them directly.
2. Dumpster Diving
When most consumers think of identity theft scams, they think of things like large data breaches and cybersecurity threats. Therefore, you would likely be surprised to find out how many people have their identity stolen out of their trash can. That’s because many people carelessly throw away financial statements, old checks, and other documents containing personal information without shredding them first. Your household should have a shredder that you use to shred every document – even if it just has your name and address on it – before discarding it in the trash.
3. Skimming Devices
One of the most clever ways that identity thieves can steal your financial (debit/credit) card information is by installing a skimming device on the point of sale system that you use to pay for your transaction. The skimming device is able to record your credit/debit card data so that identity thieves can use it to make fraudulent purchases. The two most common places where skimmers are installed are at automatic teller machines (ATM) and gas station pumps where customers prepay for gas using their credit/debit card. However, unscrupulous retail employees have been known to secretly install skimmers at stores to steal customer financial information. Unfortunately, these tiny storage devices are very hard to detect.
4. Old-School Stealing
As mentioned above, identity thieves can gain access to your personal data by stealing documents with personal information out of your trash can. Furthermore, you can become a victim of identity theft when someone steals your wallet or purse – and even your mail. For example, let’s say a financial institution mails you an offer for a pre-approved credit card. If someone steals your mail, all they would have to do is sign the offer and have “your credit card” mailed to them.
5. Changing Your Address Without Your Knowledge
Speaking of stealing your mail, did you know that someone could change your mailing address without you even knowing about it? All they have to do is fill out a change of address form at the post office – if they know your name and current mailing address. Then, the post office will start forwarding all of your mail to them. Depending on how long it takes you to realize that you are no longer getting your mail, the thief could gain access to a document that contains your personal information. Unfortunately, by the time you find out that your mail is being stolen, you could be well on your way to becoming an identity theft victim. Furthermore, you will have a headache trying to get your mail straightened out and sent back to your actual mailing address.
6. Social Engineering
Lastly, you can still become a victim of identity theft by falling for a con artist’s clever story over the phone. One of the most common social engineering scams is for someone to call you pretending to represent an organization that you do business with – similar to an email phishing scam. For example, the caller might claim to be from your bank and claim that they are calling about suspicious activity on your debit card. They might ask you to read off your debit card number or ask you to “verify” your Social Security number. That’s why you should never give out any personal information about yourself over the phone.
In short, even the most careful consumers can still fall victim to identity theft. For instance, it can be easy to get duped by a con artist and fall for an email phishing scam – especially when the message looks legitimate. You should also be careful to always shred personal documents before throwing them away. There is a risk that a skimmer could steal your credit/debit card information. Even robbery victims sometimes must deal with identity theft in addition to their stolen property. Don’t forget that con artists still make phone calls trying to trick people into sharing their personal information.