A few years back I had my identity stolen. It was done the old-fashioned way when someone stole a bunch of official documents from my mailbox – birth and marriage certificates, bank account statements, utilities bills – and they accumulated enough over time to make up a pretty good portfolio to look like they were me. Supposedly they could’ve taken out a huge loan or mortgage that I would’ve been responsible for, if they hadn’t have been caught first.

How they were caught was interesting. I can only guess they were testing out how much control they had with the information they’d stolen, and so they called my electricity company and managed to get the power switched off to my apartment. When I noticed I contacted the company to find out why the power was off and they confirmed that I had called earlier to terminate my account. Authorization had been confirmed by way of ‘me’ confirming my full name, address, phone number, and mother’s maiden name. That’s when I realized that the missing mail over the past months and this incident were probably connected. I called the Australian Fraud squad who immediately confirmed there was someone in my apartment building who was on parole for identity fraud, and was currently under watch (and let’s just say it wasn’t long before he was back in jail).

Identity theft like that took real effort; carefully sifting through my (locked) mailbox each day hoping for something to use, but not taking too much to draw suspicion. Today it’s so easy it can be done from the comfort of your own home.”

When you lose your wallet it’s a hassle to cancel and replace your bank cards and your drivers license, but it’s doable. When you have your online identity stolen, the repercussions are so much more far-reaching when someone has access to your credit cards, bank accounts, address, social security number, personal data, and more. It also often takes a long time to even notice the fraud and so it takes an even longer time to recover from it.

Online identity theft can happen as a result of your credentials being leaked in a data breach, or via a successful phishing email, or phishing website, malware (the list goes on..), so it pays to be extra cautious online and never reuse passwords. If you think something doesn’t look right don’t click that email link or enter your login details in to that website.

A new Telesign report reveals that 51% of consumers had online or mobile account compromised in the past year, and 1/3 of consumers place a value of $100K + on their digital lives.’

11 Excellent Ways to Protect Yourself from Online Identity Theft

  1. First up, only use reputable vendors and companies online, that have established trust with their user base and have good reviews and feedback from REAL people. We would all like to give small and new businesses a chance, but just make sure you do some research first.
  2. Always create unique, long, and complex passwords for every single website you use – a password manager like 1Password is the answer here.
  3. Never ever click on a link in an email you have received if you weren’t expecting it. Instead go to the website directly if you’ve been requested to login to your account.
  4. Monitor your bank accounts and credit profile, set alerts for unusual activity or amounts. It seems like a pain but it’s worth doing regularly.
  5. Secure your wifi at home with a strong password – don’t use the default password that comes with it.
  6. Never download anything unless you’re 150% sure it’s from a trustworthy, reliable source and is safe. Harder said than done, I know.
  7. Always turn on 2FA where possible.
  8. Put a passcode on your computer and phone, use fingerprint recognition on your phone where possible.
  9. Do the updates when your computer or phone asks you to because they often fix security issues from previous releases.
  10. Refrain from posting information or pics of your passport, boarding pass, airline tickets, travel visas, credit cards, address or other documents containing sensitive information on social networks. I see at least one person do this every single day on Twitter and I think ‘Wwwwwwhy?!’
  11. Don’t use the free public wifi unless you can secure it with a VPN like GetCloak (which is awesome btw).

Alternatively, if you suspect you’re already the victim of online identity fraud StaySafeOnline.org has some good tips on what to do in the US and you’ll want to get on to it, pronto.

How can online businesses help?

If you are an online vendor storing sensitive and personal customer data, you are responsible for ensuring your user security is top notch because here’s a statistic that should scare you –

33% of the victims of online fraud discontinued doing business with the site or shop involved.’ – TeleSign Consumer Account Security Report 2016.

Would you cope if your business lost 1/3 of its customers in one hit?

 

This article originally appeared in ThisData. This article was written by Nicole Fougere from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.