Identity theft is not a new thing — even before the internet people were doing this. Yet, as the world got digitized, it became much easier to steal one’s identity. As if we didn’t have enough problems without that, right? But the threat is present, and we should address it.

We are already so used to sharing our lives online that we simply can’t imagine what it would look like — to not have an Instagram and Facebook accounts, to not share vacation and everyday photos there. And even though this activity is innocent enough for us to not worry about consequences, we’re actually sharing our identities on the internet. We’re making them public. Thus, we’re making them vulnerable to theft.

Many people fall victim to the misconception that only the legal identity can be stolen. This means they believe that as long as someone doesn’t have their passport or another document that could prove the identity, they’re safe. Well, that was true for the age before the internet. Now a malefactor doesn't need your passport to harm you.

There is a difference between legal and social identities, and hackers aim at the second one. They focus on the person you are for other people. Your connections, relations to others, activities, achievements, and so on.

How can they benefit from knowing, say, that you have a dog you love very much? Quite simple. It helps malefactors to assume how the government and banks see you, and how you protect your accounts and funds. Remember, what’s the secret question for recovering your online banking account? Isn’t that the name of your beloved pet?

Big data is both the blessing and the threat

As the internet got filled with information, we called that “Big Data” and learned how to work with it. We’ve created various data gathering and processing tools, and even established a new profession — data scientist. The subject of these scientists is information — they figure out new, better ways to work with it and apply it for the benefit of humankind.

So, when we share something online, we make it possible for gathering. Hackers use all those handy tools data science gifted us to acquire the information quickly and at its fullest. It won’t take them much time and effort to get all the details about you and learn how to impersonate you.

Sure, they won’t be able to just pop into the bank and drain your account. They will do that over the internet or a phone call. And be sure that they will know the answers to all the secret questions.

How do hackers steal identities?

Breaking into some vast database and stealing the required details is not as feasible anymore. Yes, such situations happen, but very rarely — it became too hard to hack those encrypted repositories. So malefactors take a detour and begin sniffing out the information they need on various platforms where your identity is featured.

You should realize that today the identity theft is partially caused by a human mistake. It means you did something that made it easier for hackers to steal your identity. Or some employees from a bank, for example, didn’t follow the guidelines thus creating a data breach.

As for now, there are three approaches malefactors take to steal personal data.

They get it from you

You read it right. You might give some crucial details to hackers by yourself. For instance, a scammer might call you and pretend to be a bank employee or a worker of some other official institution. They ask you for some personal details, and you provide them with information because you believe that they’re officials.

The same situation could happen online via emails or direct messages on social media. Hackers might bring you some good news telling you that you’ve won something. But to get the gift, you need to prove your identity.

Malefactors have their ways to fool people into disclosing private data. And you should be cautious when you receive an unexpected call or message.

They fool officials

We are all humans, and employees of official institutions are no exceptions. To get access to the database with personal information of loads of people, hackers can apply the same techniques we’ve discussed above to official workers. For example, they could send them a phishing email with malware that allows malefactors to register which keys are pressed when this employee enters a password to a database.

They just gather enough data about you

As we have already mentioned, we tend to tell the internet too much about ourselves. If you’re meticulous enough with your social media accounts, it’s easy to learn when you traveled and where, your favorite foods, pets, loved ones, workplaces, and so on. Then hackers can build your personality just like a puzzle by gathering all the small details into a big picture. Once they have this picture ready, they can fool the system by pretending to be you.

How to stay safe?

Now, what can you do to protect yourself from identity theft? Here are some tips.

Be more secretive

Yes, it’s tempting to share your life online. But take it down a notch. Maybe, your followers won’t suffer if you don’t post as many updates. And when you do post something, be mindful of how could hackers benefit from this picture or caption. Will it give them any crucial details about you?

Passwords and secret questions

There are a lot of password managers that will offer you a complex and unique combination of symbols, and store it for you in a secure repository. So there is no excuse for you to use simple passwords. Get yourself a manager and make sure the combinations for different accounts are diverse and reliable.

Also, if you need to choose a secret question for your account, pick the one that requires information no one knows but you. You could even come up with an answer that doesn’t reflect reality.

Use multi-factor authentication

Almost any service now offers two-factor authentication. It requires you to enter more details than just your login and password. For example, the system might send a message with a temporary unique code to your mobile phone, and you’ll need to enter it to get access to your account. This adds a layer of protection.

Use a VPN

iNinja VPN will keep your IP address and, therefore, your online activity protected from prying eyes. It’s especially important to use this VPN chrome extension when you’re connected to the public WiFi network — public routers are rarely protected from hackers. Once a malefactor gets access to a router, they can crawl into all devices connected to it. But with iNinja VPN app working, a hacker won’t be able to detect you.

Get a separate phone number for banks and online accounts

It’s useful to have a secret phone number. Use it for your bank and online accounts. Then malefactors won’t be able to get closer to stealing your identity if they know your public phone number.

What to do if you become a victim?

Let’s talk about the worst-case scenario — your identity was stolen. You watch with terror your bank account getting drained. Or you receive notifications about getting listed for some companies you’ve never heard off. So, what to do?

Block the compromised account

Usually, hackers steal banking details to get access to the victim’s money. So what you need to do is to contact your bank and cancel your cards. Or if some other account was harmed, change the password immediately.

Ask for help

Contact your bank, employer, and police, and tell them what happened. Ask them to help you as much as they can and notify you if someone tries to impersonate you again. Also, tell your friends and family about the theft — they might get pulled into this situation, too.

Change as much as you can

It’s good to check your device for malware beforehand as you might have some spying programs installed. Once you’re sure your gadget is clean, change passwords to all the accounts. You might want to change the email and the phone number you’re using, too. For additional protection, have iNinja VPN extension on during this activity.

See your lawyer

Ask them if it’s possible to take vengeance against the scammers, there might be the way. Additionally, you can ask your bank to arrest a person that tries using your blocked card. The police also might have some useful guidelines for you, so you should talk to them, too.

The bottom line

It’s hard to respond to identity theft. So do your best to prevent it. Follow the rules of basic cyber hygiene, try to be more secretive, and take care of your passwords and accounts. There is no such thing as too much protection. And if you ever thought, “Do I need a VPN?” — the answer is, yes, you do.