Identity theft affects 15 million Americans every year, resulting in 50 billion dollars in financial loss.
This is on the rise; every 14 seconds, someone new in the US becomes an Identity theft victim. This could be due to the growing popularity of social media, as people who use it are 30% more likely to have their information stolen. Using Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat comes with an even higher risk, at 46%. Even if you are doing your best to keep your information private, the companies that you use and trust with your data could be compromised.
In 2021 alone, there were 1,862 data breaches, impacting 298 million people. These numbers may not seem like a big deal, however, you could deal with the effects of identity theft for the rest of your life.
The financial toll of identity theft can last for months, or even years, and be a constant source of stress. To start the process, you need to freeze your credit profiles, close all compromised accounts, and open new accounts. if your identity was used to gain employment, contact the Social Security Administration and the IRS.
For one man in Arizona, this process lasted for over a decade after he lost his wallet with his social security card in it. Tony Choliques’s information was sold to at least 17 individuals. This got him in trouble with the IRS. They claimed he owed over 62,000 dollars in taxes. He has been fighting this with his lawyer for years, and has gotten nowhere with the IRS. Identity theft isn’t just a social security number. One woman was arrested for car theft after someone stole her wallet. The thief was using her ID to take cars for a test drive but would not return them. She spent 4 days in jail before it was determined that it was a misunderstanding .
All it takes is a missing wallet for you to end up like them.
As people have started using social media as a gateway for identity theft, it is more important than ever to ensure online safety. Social media encourages sharing personal information. Be careful not to overshare and never assume something is 100% anonymous.
Make sure to keep the information you do share as generic as possible, and don’t include information that could be used to answer security questions for account recovery. This information includes birthdays, birthplace, schools, phone number, or pets name. Try to be as broad as possible in posts. You never want to include specifics. You’ll also want to have strict privacy settings on all of your apps and location services should be disabled. Contact information should be set to private. You should also audit who you’re connected with regularly, and make sure it's only people you know.
There is little you can do to protect yourself from breaches at company level, but you can make it harder for people to get into your accounts. By using a password manager you can generate random passwords and save them to your account. This makes them more secure and eliminates the need to remember them.
You should also consider lying on your security questions. Anyone could go to your Facebook profile and find what high school you went to or your mothers maiden name. Instead try putting the name of the rival high school and your grandmother's maiden name.
The main thing you can do to protect yourself is to stay aware. Think about what you’re sharing and who could hear or see it. Keep physical identification cards in a secure area, and all sensitive electronic data passwords protected. If you do find out your identity has been stolen, act fast to contain the damage so you don’t become another cautionary tale.