According to the consumer advocacy group CALPIRG, 63% of identity theft cases start online via fraudulent emails or a website. Identity theft and technology now go hand in hand, making it more difficult for consumers to avoid becoming identity theft victims.
It isn’t simply online technology making it easier for identity thieves to steal your information, either. Many devices are now sold on the black market that can help identity thieves steal the information they need to compromise existing accounts and create new ones in your name.
However, informed consumers, and professionals with criminology degrees, who keep up to date on the methods these criminals are using to target victims have a better chance of fighting back and avoiding having their personal information compromised. If you know the ways that identity thieves might try to target you, you will know what to look for and what to do to block their efforts to damage your financial health for personal gain.
The Devices Used in Identity Theft Technology
Identity theft used to require access to a victim’s mail or physical credit cards and other media, but no longer. Technology has given rise to a whole new suite of tools for identity thieves to use in gaining your personal information. These tools include, but are not limited to:
- Skimmers. Skimming is the practice of obtaining victims’ debit and credit card numbers and authorization codes using specialized devices called skimmers. The most modern skimmers are virtually unnoticeable and are attached to an ATM card reader or point of sale card reader to store information for later retrieval.
- Bluetooth. Unsecured Bluetooth connections can be hacked by identity thieves using Bluetooth devices of their own to gain access to a mobile device or laptop. Once the identity thief is connected through Bluetooth, he or she can steal personal information without the victim even being aware.
- Key logging software. Key logging software is any program downloaded to a computer or other device that records every keystroke a user makes – including user names and passwords, which can be connected to website addresses and keyboard shortcuts typed in for navigation. Key logging software runs as a background process virtually undetectable by the user, although up to date security software can usually detect and destroy these programs.
Other Ways Identity Thieves Use Identity Theft Technology
Unfortunately for consumers, identity thieves do not need to have access to devices using modern identity theft technology to steal another person’s identity. In fact, identity thieves might not even need to do any hacking at all to obtain enough personal information from another person to start an identity theft spree: Thanks to social media and applications that encourage people to share personal information, all an identity thief might need is an active internet connection. Here’s how they do it.
- Fraudulent apps. So-called scam apps are becoming prevalent even in policed app stores like Apple’s. These scam apps might be well designed and may even provide the service advertised, for the price of your identity. By asking for personal information in order to use the app, an identity thief can get all the information he or she needs and still appear legit. By the time users realize there’s a problem, the thief might be long gone. Entire app accounts can also be hacked.
- Social media sites. Social media sites are goldmines for identity thieves, especially when users make their pages and bios publicly available. Even for those who limit information to friends only, scammers can sneak through by creating fake social media pages with connections to a user, then sending a friend or connection request in order to unlock the user’s page. Read more on how identity thieves use social media here.
- Smart phone theft. Identity theft often begins with the simple theft of someone’s smart phone or tablet. Users who do not password protect their portable devices, or use a default password, can have their identity compromised through information stored on the stolen device. Criminals might also call people stored in the victim’s phonebook digging for further personal information, such as a home address under the pretense of returning the phone.
Given all the ways that criminals can combine identity theft and technology, how do you protect yourself? Here are a few tips.
- Never download a program or app that is not certified by a trusted company.
- Password protect all of your devices and consider downloading a remote wipe program, which can delete all information on a stolen device.
- Never swipe your credit or debit card at an ATM or another card reader that is not constantly supervised, such as ATMs in remote locations.
It’s also a good idea to use comprehensive security software that gives you an edge on technology and identity theft, such as Norton 360 on any computers, laptops, and mobile devices you own. Such programs will scan any downloads or malicious code you view on the internet and alert you if the information being passed to your device is untrustworthy.