We’ve all been spending more of our time online since the crisis hit. Whether it’s ordering food for delivery, livestreaming concerts, holding virtual parties, or engaging in a little retail therapy, the digital interactions of many Americans are on the rise. This means we’re also sharing more of our personal and financial information online, with each other and the organizations we interact with. Unfortunately, as ever, there are bad guys around every digital corner looking for a piece of the action.
The bottom line is that personally identifiable information (PII) is the currency of internet crime. And cyber-criminals will do whatever they can to get their hands on it. When they commit identity theft with this data, it can be a messy business, potentially taking months for banks and businesses to investigate before you get your money and credit rating back. At a time of extreme financial hardship, this is the last thing anyone needs.
It therefore pays to be careful about how you use your data and how you protect it. Even more: it’s time to get proactive and monitor it—to try and spot early on if it has been stolen. Here’s what you need to know to protect your identity data.
How identity theft works
First, some data on the scope of the problem. In the second quarter of 2020 alone 349,641 identity theft reports were filed with the FTC. To put that in perspective, it’s over half of the number for the whole of 2019 (650,572), when consumers reported losing more than $1.9 billion to fraud. What’s driving this huge industry? A cybercrime economy estimated to be worth as much as $1.5 trillion annually.
Specialized online marketplaces and private forums provide a user-friendly way for cyber-criminals and fraudsters to easily buy and sell stolen identity data. Many are on the so-called dark web, which is hidden from search engines and requires a specialized anonymizing browser like Tor to access. However, plenty of this criminal activity also happens in plain sight, on social media sites and messaging platforms. This underground industry is an unstoppable force: as avenues are closed down by law enforcement or criminal in-fighting, other ones appear.
At-risk personal data could be anything from email and account log-ins to medical info, SSNs, card and bank details, insurance details and much more. It all has a value on the cybercrime underground and the price fraudsters are prepared to pay will depend on supply and demand, just like in the ‘real’ world.
There are various ways for attackers to get your data. The main ones are:
The COVID-19 challenge
As if this weren’t enough, consumers are especially exposed to risk during the current pandemic. Hackers are using the COVID-19 threat as a lure to infect your PC or steal identity data via the phishing tactics described above. They often impersonate trustworthy institutions/officials and emails may claim to include new information on outbreaks, or vaccines. Clicking through or divulging your personal info will land you in trouble. Other fraud attempts will try to sell counterfeit or non-existent medical or other products to help combat infection, harvesting your card details in the process. In March, Interpol seized 34,000 counterfeit COVID goods like surgical masks and $14m worth of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals.
Phone-based attacks are also on the rise, especially those impersonating government officials. The aim here is to steal your identity data and apply for government emergency stimulus funds in your name. Of the 349,641 identity theft reports filed with the FTC in Q2 2020, 77,684 were specific to government documents or benefits fraud.
What do cybercriminals do with my identity data?
Once your PII is stolen, it’s typically sold on the dark web to those who use it for malicious purposes. It could be used to:
How do I protect my identity online?
The good news among all this bad is that if you remain skeptical about what you see online, are cautious about what you share, and follow some other simple rules, you’ll stand a greater chance of keeping your PII under lock and key. Best practices include:
How Trend Micro can help
Trend Micro offers solutions that can help to protect your digital identity.
Trend Micro ID Security is the best way to get proactive about data protection. It works 24/7 to monitor dark web sites for your PII and will sound the alarm immediately if it finds any sign your accounts or personal data have been stolen. It features
Trend Micro Password Manager enables you to manage all your website and app log-ins from one secure location. Because Password Manager remembers and recalls your credentials on-demand, you can create long, strong and unique passwords for each account. As you’re not sharing easy-to-remember passwords across multiple accounts, you’ll be protected from popular credential stuffing and similar attacks.
Finally, Trend Micro WiFi Protection will protect you if you’re out and about connecting to WiFi hotspots. It automatically detects when a WiFi connection isn’t secure and enables a VPN—making your connection safer and helping keep your identity data private.
In short, it’s time to take an active part in protecting your personal identity data—as if your digital life depended on it. In large part, it does.