Identity theft is a huge problem for everyone, both online and offline. And children are 51 times more likely to be targeted than adults. The statistics paint a worrying picture, but there are plenty of ways to fight back. Use our simple step-by-step tips to recover from identity theft, and use the checklist to make sure you don’t overlook anything.
Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. Hackers and fraudsters target kids, adults, the living, and the deceased. The consequences can wreak havoc.
We’re not just talking about someone using your credit card online. A fraudster can open new accounts in your name, rent a place to live, or even get a job as you. Children are particularly vulnerable to identity fraud because they’d never know what was going on.
Have you been hacked? Is your mail being opened?
Do you see weird transactions on your bank account statements?
Nobody is safe from this kind of hacking. Recognize the risk, and act on it.
Identity theft may happen to you, even if you’re careful. Here are some alarming statistics to prove just how big a threat it is:
If your identity is stolen, there will be a period of time when you aren’t aware it’s even happened.
The longer it takes for you to wise up, the longer the fraud goes on.
That’s why early detection is key.
If you recognize two or more items on this list, you should be concerned. Have you noticed:
Remember: any of these things could happen to your kids, particularly if their have phones or tablets. So it’s important to monitor their bank accounts and social networks, if they are allowed to use them.
Either way, don’t panic. Identity theft isn’t anyone’s fault. Sometimes, it’s down to a hack that you couldn’t have prevented, or a simple ‘brute force’ attack where someone just tries random details until they break in. Dealing with it quickly is the key to damage limitation.
If you’ve had your identity stolen, you face an uphill battle to sort it out. But you will regain control.
Work through these steps in order. At every step, take printouts of any suspicious data or account activity, and keep every single piece of paper that comes through your door relating to your financial situation.
Hackers want access to your email account because that lets them impersonate you. It also allows them to reset passwords for lots of other services that you use.
It’s time to freeze them out.
Two factor authentication uses your regular password and codes sent by text to your smartphone. To log in, you need both. It’s very secure, because there’s a near-zero chance that a hacker would have your phone and your password in their control.
Online banking is the next priority. And by ‘online banking’, we mean any financial account: bank, credit card, savings, loans, investments – even bitcoin wallets.
Most of us are wary about messing around with our credit files. But credit reference agencies have specific tools to guard against identity fraud. Now is the time to use them.
Call each credit reference agency in your country and ask them to put a fraud alert on your file. This will prevent the thieves opening any more accounts.
The credit reference agency should then contact your lenders and work with them to erase the fraud from your file. Your bank may then contact the police, but you can do this yourself if you prefer. (Here’s a handy link for US readers on involving the police, and here’s the UK government’s official guidance.)
Now you’ve put basic security in place, it’s time to backtrack and figure out how you were hacked.
This is important, because you need to know whether more accounts or devices are compromised so that you deal with those as well.
Here’s a few possibilities, along with some simple steps you can take right away:
|Your passwords are really easy to guess.||Start using better passwords, or use a password manager. We’ll look at some good strategies in section 5, below.|
|I clicked a link in a text message or email out of curiosity.||You’ve probably filled in a form that has transmitted data to hackers. Retrace your steps to figure out what you did (but don’t click the link again).|
|I used a public WiFi network without a password.||There may have been a malicious user on the network watching your activity. Try to remember which sites you accessed, and change all of those passwords as soon as you can.|
|I installed a new application on my computer or phone.||You may have accidentally installed a virus or malware. Find free anti-virus and anti-malware software from a reputable website. Deep scan your computer to detect and remove the threat.|
|I used a network that I hadn’t used before.||You may have caught a virus from the network, or been snooped on as you browsed. Run anti-virus and malware scans, and change passwords on the sites you visited.|
|I used a public computer (for example, in a hotel, business centre, or cyber cafe).||Visit every site that you visited and change all of the passwords. If you think you left yourself logged in, look for a setting on each website that lets you log out sessions in all other locations.|
|I might have been watched using my phone or computer.||Someone may have looked over your shoulder. Try to remember what you were doing at the time so you can secure your accounts.|
|I left a device unattended in a public place.||A malicious user might have quickly installed malware while you were not looking. Run anti-malware and anti-virus scans immediately.|
Even the most secure IT systems are only as strong as their password.
But humans find secure passwords very difficult to remember.
There are various ways to train yourself into better password habits:
Improving your online security is simple and affordable. Most of these tips won’t cost you a dime. But they will greatly reduce the chance of you being hacked.
Sure: increased security does mean a little inconvenience. But a few extra seconds here and there is surely a price worth paying for peace of mind.
The tips in this section can be used regardless of whether you’ve been hacked already:
Everyone is at risk from identity theft, and the internet gives hackers a free pass. Being hacked is a traumatic and disturbing experience, but with our tips, you can recover quickly and mop up the mess. Whether you’ve been hacked or not, prevention is always the best tactic, and even small changes to your habits can make you safer.