Identity theft is a common online scam in Africa and the world at large. You’ve probably been a victim or know someone who has fallen victim to identity theft. Or perhaps, you’ve heard a story like the one I’m about to tell…
I walked into the bank hall earlier this month, and this elderly lady wept while complaining to the customer service officer. Her pension account had been cleared, and she lost over #2 million in the space of 3 days.
According to her, she received a call from a customer support representative claiming that her account was blocked and she needed to verify her details for the account to be opened. Out of helplessness - (she hated coming to the bank hall because of the crowd), she called out her full name, date of birth, ATM card number, and CVV.
She thought she was lucky and has been saved the stress of going to the bank. Unfortunately, she had given the scammer a golden access to break into her account and steal her money. She did not also check her emails to see the withdrawals from her account. This gave the scammer enough time to carry out his plans…
I could only but feel pity for the lady while I hoped that her money would be retrieved.
Stories like these are all over the internet. And most times, it could be hard to trace the scammer or the whereabouts of the money. Identity theft is an online scam that can have a long-term impact on your financial security. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself from this type of theft and minimize the risk of your personal information being compromised.
In this post, we'll explore everything you need to know about Identity theft and 10 tips to prevent identity theft online.
Let’s get started
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information and uses it to commit fraud. It could be your name, address, photo, phone number, email address, or social security number. An identity thief may try to take a loan in your name, steal your money or use your card details to buy stuff online.
The identity thief could be someone close to you, a criminal, or a random stranger who has access to your personal information. That's why it's very crucial to proactively protect your information online and offline.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
You may be wondering how identity theft happens in the first place. Well, criminals can get their hands on your personal information in a few different ways.
Identity theft could happen through phishing schemes, where they send you an email or call you while pretending to be from a legitimate organization like your bank or credit card company - just like in the story above. They'll ask for your personal information like your social security number or account numbers, and if you give it to them, they can use it to steal your identity.
Another way that criminals can get your info is by stealing your mail or going through your trash. They can also hack into computer systems or steal documents like bank statements or tax returns. So it's important to be careful with what you share online and offline and to keep track of all of your personal documents.
Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
Here are 10 tips to help you prevent identity theft. Follow these tips and you'll be well on your way to safeguarding your personal information. They include -
Keep Your Social Security Number Private
You might not know this, but your Social Security number is like gold to identity thieves. In Nigeria, the social security number is the Biometric Verification Number (BVN). The BVN serves as a unifying number for all your personal bank accounts and Government profile, and should be kept safe at all times. With your BVN, a scammer can open fraudulent accounts in your name, take a loan from any digital loan companies or loan sharks, and/or even empty your bank account.
So how can you keep your Social Security number safe? Here are a few tips:
- Don't carry your Social Security card around, or give it out to anyone you don’t know or trust.
- Don't save it as a contact on your phone
- Don't post it on social media.
- Shred any documents with your Social Security number before throwing them away.
Beware of Phishing Emails and Customer Supports Scams
Phishing emails are one of the most common ways that scammers try to steal your information. They usually look like they're from a legitimate company, but they're not. Be careful if you get an email asking you to click on a link or provide information.
Don't do it! Legitimate companies will never ask for this kind of information via email.
Another common scam is when someone calls pretending to be from a customer support department. Again, just like the story above, do not give out your sensitive information to anyone who claims to work in your bank. If you need to rectify any issue with your bank account, the best bet is to visit your bank or reach them through verified emails and social media accounts.
Watch What you Post Online
You might not think of it as a big deal, but the things you post online can be used to steal your identity. For example, if you post your full name, address, and phone number, that's all a thief needs to start stealing your identity.
In some cases, scammers could organize a fake giveaway, scholarship, or business grant, asking for your account details/social security numbers to get credited. In turn, they steal your details and either use them to steal your money or other fraudulent activities.
To be safe, don't post anything that you wouldn't want a thief to see. And be especially careful about giving out your personal information. Don't give out your sensitive personal information online unless you're absolutely sure you can trust the person, site, or company.
Guard Your Trash and Shred Sensitive Documents
So you know that you should never give out your Social Security number or credit card information unless you absolutely have to, but what else can you do to prevent identity theft?
One thing is to be vigilant about your trash.
That means taking your garbage out regularly and keeping an eye on what you throw into it. If you see any documents with personal information, such as your name, address, or social security number, be sure to shred them before throwing them away.
Use Strong Password Combinations
Take a lesson from the pros and create strong password combinations. We're talking about a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. The longer and more complicated, the better.
And don't use the same password for all your accounts. That way, if one account is compromised, the rest of your accounts are still safe.
Using one password for all your accounts is just asking for trouble. If someone gets their hands on one of your passwords, they can access all your accounts. Sounds scary, right?
It's also advisable to change your passwords regularly. At least every few months. That way, if someone does get their hands on them, they won't be able to use them for long.
Always Use a Secure Browser
Whether you are shopping online, or just surfing the web, always make sure you're using a secure browser. Always look out for the padlock icon in the address bar, and make sure the website begins with https://. This indicates that the site has been verified and is safe to use. Meaning that your information is encrypted and can't be accessed by anyone trying to hack into it.
The best way to do this is to use a browser like Firefox or Chrome, which have built-in security features. And don't forget to update your software regularly, as new security updates are constantly released.
Beware of Public WiFi
Free things are not always free, especially when it comes to unsecured hotspot connections and public wifi. Public Wifi connections are not secure, as anyone can access what you share online. A scammer can even get into your device and steal your information. To be safe, always use secure internet connections and mind what you share while using public Wifi.
And finally, make sure to keep your computer and mobile devices secure. Install reliable antivirus software and make sure to keep your software updated.
Identity theft can be frustrating and complex, but following these tips can help you protect funds and your information.
Above all, remember that prevention is key. By being proactive and taking precautions, you can help protect yourself and your loved ones from the devastating effects of identity theft.
Of course, no list can be exhaustive, and there are always new threats and vulnerabilities. So be sure to stay up-to-date on the latest information about identity theft and online security, and use caution when sharing personal information online or through email.