Until you experience it, you probably won’t give a huge amount of thought to identity theft. That’s the sort of thing that happens to other people, right?
The truth is that it can happen to anyone, but once you’ve finished reading this you’ll understand exactly what the risks are and how to protect yourself.
What exactly is identity theft? It’s when someone else has enough personal information about you that they can pretend to be you. Think about the security questions you’re often asked when you need to prove who you are on the phone or online.
Usually, you’ll need to provide your full name, address, date of birth and phone number or email address. And that can be enough to open a new credit card account, or make purchases using an existing card.
Criminals can get this information in a variety of ways including from social media, from a data breach, or simply by using your email address and a list of commonly chosen passwords to log into your online accounts.
They can also get it using phishing emails or fake websites, both of which trick you into believing you are dealing with a legitimate company, but in fact intend to scam you. You might click a link in a text message or email that installs malware on your device. Such malicious software can scan your device for personal information and send it back to the fraudsters.
The number of scams is at an all-time high according to the Norton Cyber Safety Pulse report, and the 2023 Cyber Safety Insights Report reveals that of the nearly 1-in-4 consumers reporting having been targeted by a scam when shopping online, 50% fell victim to it.
Yet another way criminals can steal your identity is by creating Wi-Fi hotspots that look like legitimate free Wi-Fi, and when you connect, they might be able to get your details from a fake sign-in page, or if things like passwords, emails or other messages are sent over that network as plain text instead of being encrypted.
However they get your personal information, they can cause you a lot of problems if they’re able to use it to steal your identity and start making money off the back of it. Maybe they’ll sell it on the dark web or directly use it to impersonate you. Not only could financial institutions start coming after you to pay ‘your’ credit card bills or rent, but the police could come knocking as well.
Needless to say, this can cause a lot of stress, time and money to get it sorted out.
What can you do to prevent your identity being stolen? Fortunately, quite a lot, and here are five top tips and tricks you can use right now to protect yourself against identity theft this holiday season and beyond.
Be careful with any personal details you divulge online, and make sure you know who you’re sharing it with. Check your privacy settings on all the social media you use to make sure your name, date of birth and location are kept private.
Use unique, secure passwords for each website you log into. Reusing passwords is dangerous, but a password manager such as the one included with Norton 360 Advanced can store your logins so you don’t need to remember all the different passwords.
Use a VPN, such as the one in Avast One Individual and Family, to connect to public Wi-Fi networks more securely. This ensures any personal data is encrypted and private.
Don’t share or send sensitive things such as bank account numbers or passwords via email or social networks, even as a private message.
When buying things online, use reputable websites and check the web address carefully to make sure you are on the genuine site. When paying, make sure the address starts with https:. You can also use payment services such as PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay to hide your bank details from the seller.
Cybersecurity software will help protect your devices and personal information. If you’re not already using it across your devices, now’s the time to do it.
Norton 360 Advanced costs £34.99 (first year) and helps protect up to 10 devices. It monitors the dark web for your information, alerts you if your credit score changes significantly and offers identity restoration support in case of identity theft. Avast One Individual, for a single device, costs £39.99 (first year), and Avast One Family helps protect up to 30 devices for only £54.99 (first year) and will alert you if your password has been leaked.