What does an embezzler spend their money on? In the case of a New York man’s alleged fraud, just about everything, apparently. According to IDentutyUSA identity theft is on the rise during COVID-19 pandemic. Experts predict that one out of every four people in the United States will be a victim of this growing crime trend as more people work from home because of COVID-19. While data from Experian and the National Hunter Fraud Prevention Service shows that fraud rate rises 33% during Covid-19 lockdown.
When fraud investigators are asked what is the biggest fraud risk to the public at large, identity theft is usually at or near the top of the list. In today’s technologically connected world, criminals can get personal identifying information on countless unsuspecting individuals with just a few keystrokes.
At CRI Group, our experts have investigated their fair share of identity theft cases, and while they can be very damaging, there is good news – many could have been avoided (and can be avoided in the future) with some proper due diligence. With that in mind, here are some important tips to help lessen the chances of becoming a victim of this insidious fraud:
1. (If/When out) Be careful using public wifi
When using the wifi at a coffee shop, Internet café or any other public place, don’t access bank account information or other sensitive information. Your data is vulnerable to those looking to steal it.
2. Update your passwords regularly
Change your passwords and vary them among different accounts. Password managers like LastPass can help you keep track of them.
3. Don’t become a victim of phishing
Be very skeptical of unsolicited emails or website pop-ups that pose as legitimate sites (like those pretending to be a bank, a delivery service, or the IRS, for example) and ask you for personal identifying information, or financial particulars. Don’t follow links or click on attachments for any of these unconfirmed emails or sites.
4. Consider going paperless
Identity thieves can still get your information the old-fashioned way: by intercepting your mail, going through your trash or finding other ways to get bills, invoices or receipts. Shred documents that you do have and don’t need, and opt to go paperless (requesting electronic documents only) as often as possible.
5. Check your bank and credit card statements
If someone is using your existing accounts, you’ll want to know as quickly as possible so that your bank can be alerted and take the proper measures.
6. Watch for fraud alerts
Most banks will now proactively alert their customers when they see suspicious transactions. If this is an optional service, opt-in – it’s better to be safe than sorry. Then you can confirm whether the transaction is actually fraudulent or not.
7. Monitor your credit history
Credit reports can help you know if any new lines of credit have been fraudulently opened in your name. Services include Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, and Callcredit, and in the U.S., you are able to receive your credit report once a year at no charge.
Identity theft is a serious problem, and it’s not going away anytime soon. But it’s good to know that there are some common-sense precautions we can all take to lessen our chances of having our information stolen.
If you do become the victim of ID theft, or believe your information may have been compromised, there are resources to help you deal with the crisis.
In the U.S., you can visit IdentityTheft.gov. This official U.S. government website invites users to report if they have been victims of identity theft. Based on the information they provide, victims are assisted with a personalised recovery plan, and can receive step-by-step instructions on how to proceed and navigate the sometimes murky and complicated world of untangling identity theft.
In the UK, ActionFraud National Fraud & Cyber Crime Reporting Centre provides tips, advice and a reporting system as your first point of contact if you have been a victim of fraud.
Many other countries and jurisdictions provide similar services. If you are a victim of identity theft, rest assured you are not alone. It is one of the most common frauds around the world, but with a little preventative action, we can lessen its incidence and its impact.