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Let’s talk identity theft.
Recently, I wrote about protecting your silver stack, both physically and online. I wanted to revisit that online part and double down on the need for personal online security.
I know, I know. Why is the Silvpericker going on about cyber security? Go back to picking silver, already!
I get it, and we’ll get there. But I think this is important. Identity theft hurts. In some cases, it’s devastating. And as you build your collection, the potential impact of fraud grows. I have some good friends who’ve had to deal with this, and, trust me – it’s no picnic.
The worst part is that a lot of identity theft can be prevented by following some pretty basic best practices that people simply don’t adopt. In this blog, we’ll cover the tips and tools recommended by exports, and also what I do to maintain my online safety.
Let’s get started.
Identity theft is the fraudulent acquisition and use of personal information, such as names, social security numbers, bank accounts, or credit card details. It can occur through phishing scams, data breaches, or physical theft.
How common is it?
Identity theft is a fairly prevalent crime in the United States. According to various estimates, approximately one out of fifteen Americans becomes a victim of identity theft each year.
How can identity theft be prevented?
Some ways to prevent identity theft include being cautious of phishing scams, using strong passwords, keeping personal information safe, regularly monitoring credit reports, and using identity theft protection services. Personally, I use Aura.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is a crime where an individual obtains and uses someone else’s personal information, such as name, date of birth, Social Security number, or financial data, without their consent. This is usually done to commit fraud, access resources, or obtain credit and other benefits in the victim’s name.
Identity thieves can gather personal information through various means, such as hacking, phishing, social engineering, or stealing physical documents. Once they have the necessary information, they may open bank accounts, apply for loans, take out credit cards, or even commit crimes using the victim’s identity.
Victims of identity theft often face financial losses, damaged credit, and the time-consuming process of correcting the fraudulent activities tied to their identity.
A personal and fortunately not-too-damaging example: a few months ago, I found that my credit card had been copied and was being used across the US. Thankfully, the thief was only able to obtain a few hundred dollars’ worth of the greasy delights of KFC before I noticed the suspicious activity – but it could have been MUCH worse.
Recent examples of identity theft
There have been several recent examples of identity theft in the US:
- In February 2023, seven defendants were charged with million-dollar identity theft, allegedly stealing tens of thousands of dollars at a time.
- In March 2023, members of the US House and Senate were informed that their personal information had been subject to a data breach.
- Also in March 2023, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank led some opportunistic tricksters to register seemingly legit sounding domains to “support” the many struggling customers.
How common is identity theft?
Identity theft is a common problem in the US. Some numbers:
- According to Consumer Affairs in 2022, 7% to 10% of the US population are victims of identity fraud each year, and 21% of those are repeat victims.
- The Federal Trade Commission’s “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book” shows that slightly more than 25% of consumer complaints in 2021 were related to identity theft.
- Fortunly reports that identity theft affected around 0.6% of the US population in 2020, and disproportionately affects the older population.
- In 2022, 15% of identity theft reports included more than one type of identity theft.
How can identity theft be prevented?
Preventing identity theft involves safeguarding your personal information and being cautious with how you share and handle your data. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of identity theft:
Secure your personal information
Store important documents, such as Social Security cards and birth certificates, in a safe place. Shred sensitive documents before disposing of them.
Be cautious online
Use strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts, and update them regularly. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. Avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions. I use Aura as my password manager – I’ve written about this below.
Monitor your financial accounts
Regularly review your bank and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions. Immediately report any suspicious activity to your financial institution.
Monitor your credit reports
Obtain a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and review them for any errors or unauthorized accounts.
Protect your computer and mobile devices
Install reputable antivirus software, keep your operating system and software up to date, and be cautious when downloading files or clicking on unfamiliar links.
Be aware of phishing scams
Be cautious of emails, phone calls, or text messages requesting personal information or claiming to be from legitimate institutions. Verify the authenticity of the source before providing any information.
Limit what you share on social media
Avoid posting sensitive information, such as your birthdate, address, or phone number, which can be used by identity thieves to piece together your identity.
This one in particular hits home. As a bonafide internet star, I know full well what it could mean if I accidentally let slip any personal details. I’m super careful about this, and you should be too, even if you’re not an online sensation like me (I’m kidding, I’m kidding). You never know who’s waiting to pounce on a slip up!
Use caution with public records
If possible, request that your information be removed or restricted from public records, such as voter registration databases and property tax records, to limit the amount of personal information that is easily accessible.
Secure your mail
Collect your mail promptly, and consider using a locking mailbox or a post office box. If you will be away from home, request a mail hold from the post office. When sending out sensitive mail, drop it off at the post office or a secure collection box.
Be cautious when sharing personal information over the phone
Verify the identity of the person or organization you are speaking with before providing any personal or financial information.
Freeze your credit
Consider placing a security freeze on your credit reports. This prevents new accounts from being opened in your name without your explicit authorization. Remember, you will need to temporarily lift the freeze if you want to apply for new credit.
Watch out for data breaches
If a company you have an account with experiences a data breach, follow their instructions on securing your information. You may need to change your passwords or monitor your accounts more closely.
Stay informed about the latest scams and identity theft tactics to help you recognize potential threats and take action to protect yourself.
In the end, hackers – known as ‘threat actors’ in the security biz – are lazy and opportunistic. They’ll look for the open goals and low-hanging fruit, and that’ll keep most of them rich and happy.
The simple fact is that no lock is unbreakable, and no fortress impenetrable. But by following the above advice and ensuring you’re not an open target, you stand a good chance of simply being passed over in favor of the easy opportunities. Be hard to get!
Is identity theft protection worth it?
Identity theft protection services can provide an added layer of security and peace of mind. While there are many options (scroll down to see what I use), these services typically offer features such as fraud alerts, identity theft insurance, and assistance in recovering your identity if it is stolen.
Here are some factors to consider when deciding if identity theft protection is worth it for you:
Personal risk assessment
If you believe you are at a higher risk for identity theft due to your online presence, occupation, or other factors, investing in a protection service may be worth it.
Time and effort
Identity theft protection services can save you time by monitoring your accounts and credit reports on your behalf. If you don’t have the time or inclination to regularly monitor your financial information yourself, a service may be beneficial.
Some services offer more comprehensive protection, such as monitoring public records, social media, or the dark web for your personal information. These additional features may provide extra value, depending on your needs.
The cost of identity theft protection services varies widely, so compare different providers and consider the features they offer before deciding if the expense is justified.
Remember that even with a protection service, it’s still essential to practice good habits like using strong passwords, being cautious with your personal information, and monitoring your financial accounts.
Ultimately, whether identity theft protection is worth it depends on your individual situation and risk tolerance. Some people may find the added security and assistance valuable, while others may prefer to rely on their own precautions and monitoring efforts to protect their identity.
How I use Aura identity theft protection to stay safe online
Look, I want to sit in my chair and talk about coins and shiny things all day as much as the next guy (everyone does it, right?). But let’s face it – our lives are online. I don’t know about you, but I find myself leaving my information in forms online at least a few times a month. Without even realizing it, we’re leaving our digital fingerprints all over the place – and personally, I don’t want to be caught out.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Even if you aren’t a computer whizzkid, there are some pretty great tools out there to help you keep you and your online assets secure.
I use Aura. As I’ve mentioned, I like it because, in addition to providing a comprehensive suite of identity theft protection features, it also includes a VPN and password manager. There are also antivirus and parental control options available to ensure the entire family’s online safety.
Don’t take it from me, though. Here’s Iron Man himself fighting the good fight for online security:
You can get a free trial of Aura here.
Secure your identity – and your collection
If you’ve gotten this far, you should feel pretty confident about your ability to keep yourself from some nasty fraud. It takes a few small but proactive steps on your part to secure your online experience in a big way – from your silver stack, to your private information, to your entire identity.
And as long as you’re secure, you can focus on what really matters – collecting coins, currency, and precious metals.
This article contains affiliate links.