Identity theft is made easy, but it has to be? 5 smart tips to protect your data!
by Svenja Koch
Identity theft has increased significantly in recent years. Criminals particularly frequently use other people's data for fraudulent activities on the Internet. Fraudsters conclude contracts, take out loans, or order goods in other people's names. For this reason, the security of personal data must take center stage. Far too many people still handle their own information carelessly, making it easier for criminals to misuse their identities.
Everyone is a worthwhile target for identity theft!
A large proportion of Internet users still believe that their data is of no interest to criminals. The prevailing opinion is that only well-known people are worthwhile targets for identity theft. Fraudsters mainly target the data of inconspicuous people. This data is much easier to use for fraudulent schemes precisely because they are unknown persons.
Which data is suitable for identity fraud?
When it comes to identity theft, numerous data are interesting for fraudsters. Especially the combination of different data makes identity misuse possible. Some of the data is comparatively easy to collect. These include names and address information, for example. However, these alone are not sufficient, for example, to conclude contracts in someone else's name or to place orders on the Internet. In combination with the date of birth and bank details, data sets are created suitable for fraud. The data does not even have to be up-to-date. Real-life cases show that criminals even take advantage of old address information.
What happens to my personal information?
Fraudsters use personal data to order goods on the Internet or conclude contracts with mobile phone providers. They provide the victim's bank details to collect debts. In this way, the fraudsters obtain an expensive smartphone that can then be resold. Similarly, the criminals use the data to order goods in online stores or even take out loans. The victims usually only find out about identity misuse through unexpected debits on the account or payment requests and reminders that arrive by mail.
Five tips for improving the security of personal data
If you want to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft, you need to protect your data security. In many cases, one's careless handling of personal information allows criminals to misuse it. The following five tips will help guard against identity theft.
Tip 1: Do not distribute data on the Internet thoughtlessly!
A large part of the data that fraudsters use for identity misuse is provided by users quasi voluntarily. Social media are the focus of attention here. Many users publish personal data there without thinking about the consequences. In doing so, many are not only thoughtless with their information. Social media often tempt us to provide information about family members. For example, numerous profiles on Facebook give information on the date of birth, telephone number, place of residence, and parents and children. This provides fraudsters with almost all the data they need for identity theft. With targeted calls or emails, the criminals then try to complete the information that is still necessary, for example, the bank details.
The security of personal data can be improved by giving personal details the status private. Then, for example, only people on your own friend's list can see this information. Alternatively, it makes sense not to publish such data on the Internet at all, neither on social media nor on any other platforms. When service providers or other sites on the Internet request personal data, it is essential to use common sense. For example, a quiz or sweepstakes entices you with prizes and asks for personal information to participate. This may be the work of fraudsters who are specifically collecting data.
Tip 2: Ensure the security of personal data within your own four walls!
Theft of personal information is not only an issue on the Internet. Especially in the home, consumers are often careless with their data and neglect security.
One key issue is WLAN security. Nowadays, almost every household operates a WLAN and connects smartphones, game consoles, and other devices to it. Out of convenience and a false sense of security, many do not set up security measures. However, an open WLAN without password protection and encryption is an invitation for attackers. In many cases, it is possible to establish a connection from the public space on the street. This is how hackers tap into the data connection and steal personal data, and access information.
Therefore, it is crucial to set the WLAN security to WPA2-PSK in the router's settings. In addition, the router owner must change the password, paying attention to the standard recommendations regarding password security. A password generator helps to create passwords with high security. However, information in paper form also poses a security risk. We receive numerous letters and other documents with personal information on them. Some throw these documents directly into the household trash. Fraudsters specifically search the garbage for such data.
Many consumers also dispose of digital storage without thinking about the dangers. USB memory devices, hard drives, and old cell phones should not be disposed of directly in household waste or recycled. With the help of special software, hackers can quickly restore the digital data on such memories, even if they were previously deleted.
Document shredders are available for paper documents. The right security level, such as P5, ensures that the information on the paper is completely destroyed. For electronic data storage devices, there is software that makes a recovery impossible by overwriting multiple times. If access to the data media is no longer possible, shredders for hard drives and USB sticks physically destroy these devices.
It is also important to empty your mailbox daily to prevent the theft of mail and thus your data. The same applies to personal documents and digital devices such as a smartphone or ID card. Leaving these unguarded, for example, in the car, is an invitation to identity theft.
Tip 3: Ensure password security!
For many years, security experts have been pointing out the need for secure passwords. Nevertheless, data theft occurs time and again due to errors in the handling of passwords. This is not just about the composition of passwords alone but also about how they are handled in their entirety.
For example, the average Internet user now has more than 70 different passwords and correspondingly many different accounts on other platforms. For this reason, it often happens that users use the same password on several or even all media. If the password is then combined with the user's name or the same email address, security is at high risk, and the door is wide open for identity abuse. If hackers get hold of the access data for one account, they theoretically have access to all other platforms on which the same password is used.
That's why a password manager is a safe solution these days. On the one hand, such software creates secure passwords and, on the other, increases the security of personal data. Thus, each account receives its secure password. Users only need to remember the password for the manager itself.
Tip 4: Use multi-factor authentication!
The combination of password and email address does not guarantee the security of personal data. This is still acceptable on platforms that do not store any personal information and are not associated with payment services. In all other situations, two-factor or multi-factor authentication at login is the secure alternative. Most platforms now offer such multi-factor authentication. However, the user must activate and set it up individually. Many do not do this and find the additional confirmation of the login via smartphone too time-consuming. However, identity abuse then looms if criminals get past the password protection.
Tip 5: Ensure the security of personal data in public spaces!
The Internet has become a constant companion. Many people use social media or pay with digital payment methods on their smartphones because it is so convenient. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but too few users pay attention to the security of the Internet connection. The main thing is that there is a connection to the Internet. Hackers like to take advantage of this and place unprotected WLAN connections in public places, for example. The smartphone connects to these and grants the user a connection to the Internet. Then the hackers have direct access to all transmitted data. Therefore, it is important never to share personal information, passwords, or payments via unprotected connections. This also includes credit card numbers, logins to social media, or the use of online banking.
Furthermore, many neglect the security of personal data on laptops, smartphones, and other mobile devices. Most of us store personal information on these systems, making identity misuse easy. If criminals get hold of these devices, they have easy access to the data. Stored passwords in the browser give way to the email account, social media profiles, and many other sites. Identity theft is hardly more accessible.
That's why it's essential to secure laptops and other devices. The first way to do this is through passwords in the BIOS and the operating system. Without entering the password, there is no way to start the system or unlock the display. However, this is only one hurdle to prevent identity abuse of the stored data. Hackers, namely, have the option to remove the hard drive and read the data directly. That is why it is crucial to activating data encryption on portable devices. Windows operating systems, for example, offer a corresponding function in the form of BitLocker.
Identity theft is a rewarding method for criminals to gain financial benefits for themselves. On the other hand, the injured parties start a struggle that lasts for months and costs a lot of nerves and time, as well as leaving financial damages behind. To avoid such experiences, it is essential to keep personal data security in mind and continuously improve it. Even those who have already published data on the Internet, for example, on social media, have the opportunity to correct this. Delete the relevant information or set the status to private. It is important to constantly pay attention to the security of personal data and handle all data carriers carefully, whether analog or digital. In this way, the risk of identity theft and misuse of information can be significantly reduced.