From 2010 to 2015, identity thieves have stolen $112 billion from U.S. consumers. A staggering 13.1 million victims of identify theft lost $15 billion in 2015 alone. To curb more cases of identity theft, more and more issuers of credit and debit cards are transitioning their clients to cards with chip technology. (See also: 4 Ways Chip Credit Cards Make Life Easier)
Still, there are plenty of methods for criminals to get a hold of your personal information. Let's review three more ways thieves can steal your identity and how to protect yourself against them.
Snail mail can be annoying in more ways that you think. While receiving paper copies of statements of your bank accounts, credit card accounts, retirement accounts, or investment accounts can save you the cost of printing them out yourself, keep in mind that it also opens the door for potential identity theft. For example, all it takes is a thief to get a hold of a bank account or credit card statement and try his luck changing your mailing address and requesting a replacement card. Don't let somebody go on a shopping spree with your hard-earned dollars!
Another target inside your mailbox is any prefilled credit card or loan application. That little trash bin right next to the mailbox area in your apartment building is a gold mine for identity thieves.
How to Prevent It
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) recommends you avoid leaving mail in your mailbox overnight or on weekends. If you plan to be away from home from three to 30 consecutive days, use the USPS Hold Mail Service to schedule delivery of all mail on the day of your return.
Also, make sure that you deposit any mail containing personal information only on U.S. Postal Service collection boxes and securely discard any letters of preapproved offers of credit. You also can opt out of unsolicited credit and insurance offers by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visiting www.OptOutPrescreen.com.
2. Fake Public Wi-Fi
Whether struggling to keep your data usage within the limits of your existing phone data plan or trying to upload a perfect Instagram selfie during your trip to Italy, many of us can't resist the promise of free Internet from a public hot spot. Malicious hackers are aware of this and set up fake public Wi-Fi hot spots to lure users and steal their data.
Main targets are commuters doing work and exposing valuable information, such as lists of clients, business expense accounts, and invoices. If you think getting your identity stolen is bad, imagine exposing that of your clients or coworkers to cyber criminals. And those hackers don't have to be anywhere close to you: They can be up to 100 feet away and still get away with your identity.
How to Prevent It
Only activate your Wi-Fi port when you're about to connect to a known and secure Wi-Fi. Whenever possible, check the authenticity of a hot spot. For example, ask the reception desk attendant at a hotel or check billboards at a mall.
When using public Wi-Fi connections, don't visit sites related to your personal finance. If you absolutely must use a public Wi-Fi for work, only do so by connecting through your company's Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt all data during your session.
You don't need to be a major celebrity for somebody to try hacking your email account. All it takes is the suspicion that you may have a lot of financial assets or are in the process of a major financial transaction, such as closing a mortgage, executing an estate, or applying for a student loan.
While you may think that it takes really complicated hacking skills to decipher a password, the harsh reality is that most people use the simplest of passwords. According to a list of over two million leaked passwords, the top five passwords of 2015 were:
Internet uses don't learn from their mistakes: The top two most commonly used passwords of 2015 were also the top two of the list from the previous year. Even worse, nearly three out of four individuals use the same password for multiple accounts. By unlocking your email password, hackers have a good chance of getting a hold of your other online accounts.
How to Prevent It
Microsoft recommends using passwords that:
- Are at least eight characters in length;
- Don't contain your username, real name, or company name;
- Don't spell out complete words (sorry sports fans: football and baseball were #7 and #10 in the list of most commonly stolen passwords);
- Are significantly different from previous passwords; and
- Are different from passwords used on other websites.
Also, don't use your email to store documents containing sensitive information, such as your social security number or credit card number. If you need to exchange such documents, do so through the encrypted online portal of your financial institution. You'll know it's encrypted when the URL bar shows a "HTTPS."
Finally, learn to identify the meanings of the potential types of padlocks that your web browser uses, such as the green and gray padlocks of Mozilla Firefox.
Better safe than sorry.