Though stealing someone’s identity is illegal, there are plenty of sneaky but legal tactics scammers and hackers employ that can expose you to identity theft as well. The first step in preventing this distressing scenario is being aware of the more common data collection schemes used to leave you vulnerable.
Here, we’ll detail five strategies you should be aware of so you can keep your identity — and sanity — in check.
Social media sleuthing
With the ubiquity of social media, people are sharing more about their personal lives over the internet than ever before. While this means we’re able to virtually connect with long-lost friends and relatives, it also makes it easier for a scammer or hacker to access details about your personal life that could lead to identity theft. In general, keep your profile settings private if you decide to disclose identifying information like your birthday or any other personal details, and carefully consider the impact of anything you post. Bragging about your vacation, for example, could signal to a thief that the mail is unattended or personal information is being left unguarded at home.
Instead of spending the time trying to guess or track down your personal information, some scammers and hackers will create traps that rely heavily on human interaction to gain access—a tactic known as “social engineering.” Often posing as a legitimate person or company in need of information, social engineering ploys rely on people’s curiosity and trust to be successful. Be wary of “urgent” emails seeking to verify your login information or suspicious social media friend requests.
Tapping into your old hard drive or computer
If you are selling or discarding an old computer, don’t just simply hand it over with the existing hard drive intact. You could be unknowingly giving a thief the keys to information they need to assume your identity. If you are throwing out or upgrading an old machine, be sure that the physical hard drive is replaced and destroyed beforehand.
It seems counterintuitive, but when you feel your computer has been taken over by malware, you might be more susceptible to scams masquerading as “fixes” to the problem. If you think your computer has been infected or downloaded illegal content and you’re then presented with an immediate solution to the problem — think twice — you could actually end up installing the attacker’s malware instead.
Vishing, or “voice phishing”
Voice phishing or “vishing” scams are voicemails or robocalls that often pose as companies or government agencies with a pressing need meant to override your natural caution. They’ll want you to give up critical identifying information like your social security or credit card number hastily over the phone. Beware: a reputable organization will never operate this way.