An alarming number of people around us fall prey to identity-related theft and fraud each year. According to OpSec Security, this figure could be as much as 86% of consumers worldwide. That’s an incredibly high percentage, large enough to send anyone into digital hibernation.
Now, there are many ways you can experience identity theft. For instance, a criminal could file a tax return under your name or help themselves to your bank account. Criminal identity theft is another such threat that’s much less hear about compared to others. But its dangers are very real and have the potential to get you into trouble, even with law enforcement.
So, what is criminal identity theft? When an individual is arrested, whether it’s for a minor traffic offense or a violent criminal act, they are required to identify themselves by providing personal information. But sometimes, they could share details of someone else to mislead the police. For instance, a criminal could steal your driver’s license or social security card and share it with law enforcement officers. And from that moment onwards, all their criminal acts will get recorded under your name. This is what experts call criminal identity theft.
Anyone can become a victim of this type of identity theft, regardless of their age, gender, financial status, and other personal circumstance.
But how can you identify criminal identity theft? The answer to this question is not always straightforward. With financial identity theft, you might find unusual transactions in your bank statements. Or you could receive a letter from a lender about a recent loan application that you’re unaware of. With medical identity theft, you could get a bill from a healthcare provider or an Explanation of Benefits statement from your medical insurer for a medical treatment you have not received.
But the signs of criminal identity theft might not be so obvious. In fact, it could take years before you find out. Of course, some signs might appear faster than others. For example, you might suddenly receive a court summons or a visit from a criminal investigator. Or you may find that you’ve lost a critical government-issued document such as your social security card or driver’s license.
But many people go on for years without realizing that they’ve become a victim of criminal identity theft. For them, the telltale signs might appear in the form of more grave consequences. For instance, they might suddenly lose their job because of an alleged criminal record. Any such signs should not be taken lightly and require an in-depth investigation without delay.
Often, recovering from criminal identity theft could be a cumbersome process. You might have to provide fingerprints, take DNA tests, and go to courts to prove your identity and clear your name from erroneous charges. Taking steps to prevent them is always the best course of action to avoid all the hassle, inconvenience, financial cost, and most importantly, the psychological trauma of becoming a victim.
So, how can you prevent criminal identity theft? Here are simple steps to significantly minimize your exposure.
Preventing access to your personal information requires adopting data protection and responsible sharing practices.
- Be wary of phishing attacks that could attempt to extract your personal data. Do not entertain any requests for identifiable information that come via emails, phone calls, texts, and social media messages.
- Avoid digital data sharing. Each piece of information you share online will add to your digital footprint and could expose you further to criminal activities.
- Secure your devices from virus attacks. Use login passwords, install virus guards, and keep all software updated.
- Adopt safe email practices. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments without verifying the identity of the sender.
- Only share personal information on a need-to-know basis. Before providing access to your data, take a moment to understand how it will be used, stored, and protected. Weigh the cost of refusing to disclose your information with the potential risks attached to data sharing.
- Protect your data from physical theft. Avoid leaving around important documents such as your driving license, social security card, birth certificate, and bank statements.
- Minimize your digital data trail. Delete unnecessary content, accounts, and any other data source from cyberspace.
Relying on others to find out about a criminal charge attached to your identity details is risky and could severely damage your personal reputation. Running regular background checks using a people search site is the easiest way to screen minor offenses, arrest records, court cases, and any other similar information linked to your name. These sites can allow fast, reliable, and anonymous search activities to unearth incriminating records. Besides, many individuals, from recruiters to landlords, often count on these tools to screen people before making high-stake decisions.
Identity theft protection companies can provide two essential services to help you tackle savvy criminals. They offer advanced fraud monitoring services, where they watch out for any signs of identity threats and inform you of suspicious events. This can save you from the hassle of constantly tracking your accounts and information. They have the expertise and the technological capabilities to do this much more efficiently, so they can detect any warning signs before things get out of hand. For instance, they can track your credit score, monitor the dark web for leaked personal data, and keep track of your social media accounts for posts that could compromise your identity.
And in the event you become a victim of criminal identity theft, these companies could help you quickly recover and minimize damage. For example, they can help place credit freezes, give you access to licensed investigators, and provide identity theft insurance.
With the FTC receiving 2.2million fraud complaints a year, there’s little sign of identity thieves retiring, even amidst a global pandemic. So, taking effective steps to curb their activities might be your only hope for now.