Identity fraud has become a growing problem as more people work, socialize, and shop online. Unsurprisingly, having your identity stolen has a significant impact on your financial and mental health, and it can take years to recover. And unfortunately, identity theft, credit card fraud, and having your bank accounts compromised are only the tip of the iceberg.
In April last year, Google reported that nearly one-fifth of all phishing scams were related to coronavirus. Based on previous trends, especially given the effects of the pandemic, we can expect another increase in identity fraud scams in 2021. As scams evolve, it’s important to learn how to spot them so you can protect yourself from these kinds of attacks.
When lockdowns started in March, banking online became a new reality for many, and online shopping increased exponentially. Technologies like Zoom, HouseParty, TikTok, and Among Us exploded in popularity, as people searched for new ways to connect.
Of course, scams emerged taking advantage of the pandemic, including “news” services offering coronavirus updates (in exchange for some personal details, of course), and phishing emails linking to fake government grant applications.
And whether they’re legitimate services or not, creating new accounts can make you more susceptible to the risks posed by data breaches if you reuse the same password for multiple accounts. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to prevent password reuse attacks, including using a strong, unique password for every online account.
Pandemic-centric identity fraud
The coronavirus pandemic has also seen a rise in identity fraud. Governments worldwide responded to the pandemic by offering funding, grants, and loans to help people weather the financial crisis. Out of necessity, many of these aid programs were put together quickly, making them ripe targets for scammers.
Using previously exposed data, scammers could take advantage of these new aid programs. For example, a 2019 Equifax breach compromised personal information of about 143 million people. That breach included social security and social insurance numbers – personal data, which might go some way to explaining the estimated 30 million Americans who have yet to receive their stimulus payment, and the more than 700 Canadians who reported that CERB payments were claimed in their name, that they didn’t request or receive.
While identity fraud reporting is increasing, the number of actual scams is estimated to be much higher because many people are unaware their identity has been stolen.
Early signs of identity theft
Many people first find out their identity has been stolen when they check their credit score, are denied a loan, or receive a debt repayment call for something they never bought.
Common identity fraud signs to keep an eye out for include:
- Creditors calling when you haven’t requested credit in the first place
- Withdrawals or transfers from your bank account that you didn’t initiate
- Notifications of changes made to your account that you didn’t request
- Debt collection calls when you don’t have unpaid or late debt payments
- Missing or undelivered mail with your personal information, like credit card statements
Basically, if you notice anything out of place in your accounts, it’s important to follow up right away, and through official channels like phone numbers or websites you already know – not via links in emails or text messages.
There are also steps you can take now to help prevent attackers from stealing your identity in the first place, and most are small changes that you can make today. These include:
- Delete unused accounts that put you at risk.
- Never share personal information over incoming phone calls, especially from unrecognized numbers (and also while in public, via text, or when on public Wi-Fi).
- Use a password manager to create strong, unique passwords for every account.
- Enable multi-factor authentication wherever possible, especially important accounts like email and banking.
- Sign up for alerts from your financial institutions to spot discrepancies faster.
- Never share personal information via emails – legit organizations and government agencies never request private information this way.
- Shred any documents with personal information before recycling them.
- Never give out your social security number unless you trust the recipient and you’re sure the information is required.
- Check your credit score every month for unexpected changes and follow up on discrepancies.
Checking your credit score doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Both Lending Tree and ClearScore offer free credit checks so you can track your credit score and respond to any unexpected changes. Both services handle vital information, so it’s extremely important that you use unique passwords for these accounts. 1Password has partnered with both Lending Tree and ClearScore to offer 25 percent off your first year of 1Password when you sign up with either service.
With identity fraud scams increasing worldwide, it’s more important than ever to secure your personal information. Knowing what to look out for and taking early, preventative measures will help reduce your risk and exposure to fraudsters.