September 28, 2015

Share Everywhere

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

When it comes to preventing identity theft, you operate at ninja level for protection – changing passwords frequently with hard-to-crack combinations, limiting what you share on social media, checking your credit and banking transactions daily, and even staying aware of potential shoulder surfing.

Then, someone opens a new account using all your identifying information. With all of that preparation, you may be thinking to yourself, “How does identity theft happen?”

The fact is that even if you know full well how to help prevent identity theft, your identity can still be stolen because, unfortunately, a number of factors are completely out of your control.

Typically, there are two primary ways that identity theft can happen.

Individual Negligence

You can limit access to your personal and financial information, but some of that data may still be vulnerable. For example, government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security and IRS maintain records that make it easier for you to pay taxes or renew a license. Despite high-level controls, though, individuals can still unwittingly create theft opportunities — for instance, an IRS agent recently misplaced a portable flash drive containing personal information for nearly 12,000 Texans.

Unfortunately, this kind of slip up is becoming more common. Missing laptops and flash drives have exposed information for thousands of public school students, about 75,000 Coca-Cola employees and millions of healthcare patients, among many others. In one particularly stunning loss, thieves broke into the home of a Veterans Affairs employee and took unencrypted hard drives that contained sensitive data for over 26 million veterans, their spouses and active-duty military personnel.

Although aggressive efforts are underway to reduce human error and negligence, companies and agencies of every size still pose a threat when it comes to identity theft prevention.

Data Breaches

Maybe a company has a rock-solid laptop encryption policy and has never had an employee accidentally expose your records. Unfortunately, you’re still at risk.

As we’ve seen with numerous healthcare breaches, sometimes hackers gain access to a system and pull records from it for months — or even years — before anyone notices that the breach has taken place. These system intrusions can happen anywhere, including retailers, employers, financial institutions, and even schools and colleges. Wherever your information resides can be a target.

Cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated as well. Verizon released a data breach investigation report that noted hackers are taking advantage of security holes, using phishing tactics and selling compromised records. In 60 percent of recent breaches, cybercriminals were able to hack into an organization within minutes. Sometimes, all it takes is a single employee clicking on a suspicious web link, and the attacker is inside — right where all your information might be stored.

So, how does identity theft happen? We’ve outlined the most common ways here, but there are many others, such as thieves at a card dealership or even your own friends and family.

Although there are major benefits to focusing on preventative strategies, you can’t be everywhere at once. That’s why it can be helpful to supplement your ninja skills with additional protection like IdentityForce, which can monitor for suspicious activity, issue alerts and assist with recovery if necessary.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Zach Dischner.

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