When asked how identity can be stolen, most people think about the most sophisticated methods, like malware, phishing, smishing, and wireless hacking. But the scary thing is, there are a whole host of low-tech ways identity thieves can take your information.
Guest post by Katie Brenneman
Not only must you protect yourself from the more sophisticated identity theft attempts, but you must also educate yourself on the unusual ways a thief can steal your identity and how to prevent them.
Keep reading for 11 uncommon ways your identity might be stolen and tips for ensuring they don’t happen to you.
Sorting Through Your Trash
Some thieves out there don’t mind sorting through your trash to find personal identifiable information (PII) on documents you’ve thrown away. Junk mail, old receipts, credit card offers, and other paperwork have your name and address on them, at the least. And that’s enough to get an identity thief started.
The best way to ensure dumpster divers don’t come away with any valuable personal information in your garbage is to avoid throwing sensitive documents in the trash altogether.
In addition, it’s a good idea to invest in a shredder. There are quite a few uncommon items you should be shredding that people tend to forget about: paper items like junk mail, old birthday cards, vet paperwork, travel documents, and sticky notes, for example.
Furthermore, a scanner might be a good investment so that you can digitize physical documents and store them in a secure file online.
Filling Out Your Change of Address Forms
Among all of the methods and types of identity theft, this might be the most uncommon. Thieves sifting through your trash or snatching your mail are likely looking for change-of-address forms. They can fill these forms out with their address and have your mail come to them.
If you stop receiving statements or bills for legitimate accounts via mail, this could be a sign your identity was stolen via a change of address form. Pay attention to your email accounts, too, as many businesses will notify you of an address change via email.
Contact the accounts you’re suspicious about and see if this is indeed true, and follow any procedures they suggest to secure your accounts again.
Stealing Your Mail or Packages
This report by Security.org reveals that “nationally, 49 million Americans have had at least one package stolen in the past 12 months.” Along with packages, many people report their mail being stolen from their mailboxes as well.
Not only do thieves get the products, but they also get personal information from the shipping label, any documents inside the package, and from any mail they retrieve.
To avoid being a mail or package theft victim, learn when these things typically arrive at your house and be ready to collect them daily or have someone pick them up for you. Also, you should report mail theft or tampering to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Looking Over Your Shoulder
As simple as it seems, a lot of identity theft occurs because someone looks over your shoulder.
Whether they’re standing behind you in line as you look at your phone, sitting next to you on a plane as you review confidential documents, or watching your screen while you work in a coffee shop, someone could be taking down any personal information they can make out.
Paying attention to who’s around you is critical to preventing this simple identity theft attempt. Also, purchase screen protectors for your phone, laptop, and tablet to shield your personal information from those close by.
Eavesdropping on Your Conversations
In addition to looking over your shoulder, identity thieves are known to eavesdrop on conversations. We can end up sharing a lot of private information in our discussions with not just friends and family but with cashiers, baristas, and other employees.
If an identity thief is an ear away from your conversation, you better believe they’re jotting down what they need. So, share information discreetly in public discussions. Hold quiet talks and only share personal information if absolutely necessary.
This is the most high-tech way your identity might be stolen on this list, but card skimmers are becoming popular among identity thieves. A skimmer is a small device that reads the information stored on your credit or debit card’s magnetic strip or chip.
There are handheld options that allow thieves to pass over someone’s purse or wallet in their pocket to capture payment and personal information from their cards. Or these devices can be installed on payment terminals in stores or at gas pumps.
Invest in an RFID-blocking wallet to protect yourself against skimming devices. Also, slightly pull up or on the face of payment terminals to see if any part of it detaches to reveal a skimmer.
There are way too many people in the world using the easiest passwords ever to secure their personal information online. Pet names, birthdays, anniversaries, sets of numbers, and whole words are just a few common passwords that identity thieves appreciate.
Using strong passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols is the best way to go. Ensure they’re unique to each account and that you don’t reuse the same password for different accounts. And never write your passwords down on paper and store them in an easily accessible place like your wallet.
Lost or Stolen ID
A lost or stolen ID in the hands of an identity thief is bad news. Not only can they use the information on your ID to open fraudulent accounts, but they can also use the ID itself to pretend to be you.
Imagine having a warrant out for your arrest because someone stole your ID and used it in a traffic stop but never went to court. Don’t let an identity thief make use of your ID. Instead, report your lost ID or license to the DMV. If it’s your passport that was stolen, report it on travel.state.gov.
Lost Debit/Credit Card
In addition to your ID, license, or passport, identity thieves want your lost debit and credit cards too. We usually don’t realize we’ve lost a debit or credit card immediately. So that gives thieves plenty of time to make unauthorized purchases and cash withdrawals from your account.
As wonderful as it would be to never lose your debit or credit card, you’re bound to lose it at least a few times in your life.
As soon as you notice it’s gone, freeze it via the mobile app if available. Then, call your bank or credit card company to officially report it and launch an investigation into unauthorized charges.
Another uncommon way your identity might be stolen is by misplacing your cell phone. We all know how much information we store on our cellphones, from pictures to addresses to passwords (even though we aren’t supposed to!).
When we lose our phones, all that private information could end up in the hands of an identity thief.
Even though there are ways around a lock on your phone, it’s better to have one than not in this situation. Trying to hack a phone that requires facial recognition and an additional password to unlock will frustrate any identity thief and hopefully stop their attempt to gain access.
Your Digital Presence
According to statistics gathered by the Insurance Information Institute, there were 1,862 data breaches and exposures in 2021, affecting a little over 293 million people. Hackers obviously had some serious success obtaining personal information via online data breaches.
Suppose you engage with businesses and brands online. In that case, you’re incredibly vulnerable to identity theft, whether making a purchase, interacting on social media, emailing customer service, or engaging in another online activity.
Ensure that you’re shopping online on secure websites. Make your social media accounts private and refrain from publicizing confidential information on these platforms. And build the rest of your online presence responsibly to prevent identity theft. You may want to invest in an identity protection service too.
Unfortunately, many people have been victims of identity theft, and many more will be in the future.
But if you recognize uncommon ways your identity might be stolen as much as you do the more sophisticated methods and use the tips above, you’ll be in a better position to fend off identity theft attempts.