Identity theft has been around before the internet. Anyone who possesses any of your sensitive information, such as ATM PINs, address, birthdays, and social security numbers, can slander and damage your reputation at the very least. Otherwise, they can siphon your bank accounts or take out loans using your name. Nowadays, scammers and identity thieves still do this, and technology has made it all the easier.
Truthfully, numerous technologies today help minimize identity theft entry points. Still, it relies greatly on users’ efforts and perseverance to keep their delicate information away from prying and hacking eyes.
What is Identity Theft?
The most common identity theft example is this: a hacker guesses your social network account password and locks you out with a new password. Now, the hacker can impersonate you on the social network. Doing so allows them to manipulate your family friends into lending them money, infecting them with malicious software, log into your social network-logged accounts, and more.
Truthfully, social network account hacks are the smallest of troubles you’ll have with identity theft. If hackers learn your credit card’s sequence number, expiration date, and card verification value (CVV), they can max it out until you call banks to stop the fraudulent transactions. All account owners of any service online and offline have a responsibility to learn how to prevent identity theft and take care of their personal information.
America – The Biggest Victim of Cybercrime In The World
Before the internet, identity theft existed, but scammers and false survey groups doing offline-based mode of operations had limited mileage. With more Americans glued to the internet thanks to social networks and online commerce sites in 2005, the numbers started to go up.
In Statista’s records, which we’ve retrieved above, you can see that from 157 identity theft cases in 2005, the situation has increased en masse between 2016 and 2017. The graphs show that internet technology’s growth and popular exposure immensely contributed to the rise of identity theft cases.
There were only over 66.9 million records exposed in 2005. By 2018, the US saw 1,257 identity theft cases exposing over 471.23 million various personal sensitive citizens’ information.
Identity Theft and Fraud Complaints
If we refer to Statista’s data above, the peak of identity theft and fraud complaints happened around 2015-2019. It was in 2018 when hackers hit the highest American population. However, fraud overtook the complaints chunk of this half-decade. From the Insurance Information Institute’s data below, you can see that about 38-52% (1,165,393 – 1,697,934) of 2015-2019’s cybercrime cases involved fraud.
*Data from CONSUMER SENTINEL NETWORK Data Book 2019
Based on this data, identity theft might seem negligible because it took only 13-20% (370,917-650,572) of 2015-2019’s cybercrime cases. However, in most cases, fraud is a gateway leading hackers to use harvested identity information to commit identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission reports that millions of Americans lost $1.9 billion to fraudsters and identity theft in 2019 alone.
Fraudsters or scammers use enticing advertisements to convince customers that their device has an infection. They can get a prize after doing a survey, or they’ve been locked out from their banking accounts and have them login using a fraudulent website. We’ll have a deeper look into this in the next section.
Top 10 Fraud Categories in The US
These fraud categories are the top mode of operations for most fraudsters and identity thieves targeting Americans, according to the FTC-run Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN)’s report. All information here comes from the 2019 report they published in January 2020.
1. Imposter Scams
A fraudster can purchase social network accounts, emails, and specialized accounts for forums and other networks. They can then pose as the individual, asking the victim’s friends and family for favors, such as opening a new bank account or loan in their name, being co-guarantors in financing, and more.
CSN’s 2019 Data Book indicates that out of the 59,482 fraud reports, imposter scams took the biggest chunk at 35,066. Americans who fell victim to this modus have collectively lost $27.4 million in 2019 alone.
2. Telephone and Mobile Services
Truthfully, imposter scams took an enormous bit of fraud cases because of internet accessibility and financial technologies. This reason justifies the tremendous gap between imposter scams and telephone and mobile services.
The CSN’s 2019 report indicates that phone and mobile services, which primarily target retirees, the elderly, and non-technologically savvy or capable individuals, only took 2,838 out of the 58,542 fraud reports. However, all victims in this category lost a collective $1.3 million.
3. Online Shopping and Negative Reviews
Thanks to the internet, anybody can set up shop through a website or using closed-circuit selling networks, such as Amazon and eBay. Unfortunately, this allowed many fraudsters to trick American online shoppers with false advertisements and promises of delivering the product.
About 2,511 out of 58,542 fraud cases came from this fraud category, and customers have collectively lost $1.8 million. It’s more likely these cases may increase in the future, especially with the Western world’s increased online shopping interest.
4. Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries
An identity thief in this category has an easier time snapping up victims than today’s evolved internet and advertising technologies. Unsuspecting, non-tech savvy internet users have a bigger chance of believing they’ve won something in the false advertisements.
CSN’s data shows that this minority still has many victims. The records show that 1,769 victims have lost about $1.8 million in 2019.
5. Foreign Money Offers and Counterfeit Check Scams
The famous Nigerian Prince scam has taken on new narrative styles, but the method remains similar. A person emails you about riches from their nation, and they intend to give you a hefty commission by paving the way. You’ll open their bank accounts and pay the fees. You’ll also pay their “processing fees” until nothing comes into your bank account during the promised day.
While it’s unbelievable, CSN’s 2019 records show that 1,366 people have fallen for this trap. Plus, their collective losses of $7.8 million is the second-highest loss in the report.
6. Internet Services
Fraud investigation specialists refer to this fraud type as internet software services fraud. For example, malicious software (or malware) can infect your devices by placing a “backdoor” on your computer, allowing anyone to control and pilfer your computer’s data remotely. They’re the next-generation computer viruses of the 90s and 200s because they can pose as innocent internet services. Others include denial of services (DOS) attacks, phishing, ransomware, and more.
In CSN’s 2019 report, about 1,379 cases are about internet software fraud, having victims lose a total of $1.3 million with an average of $299 per case or individual.
7. Business and Job Opportunities
The CSN’s report still considers business and job opportunity fraud, which focuses on investment and business start-up funding that ends up in the suspect’s exposure of the victim’s delicate information. On the other hand, it’s employers who fail to pay employee or freelancer wages or scammers posing as employers to dupe prospective workers into exposing their confidential information.
About 522 of the CSN’s 2019 fraud cases involved business and job scams, having employees and investors lose a collective $5.2 million with the highest individual or per case loss at $4,500.
8. Mortgage Foreclosure Relief and Debt Management
All qualified US debt consolidation, relief, and management services have a local government license to provide their services. However, many scammers can still convince unsuspecting American victims of their service’s legitimacy because of attractive, low-interest payment deals. In 2019, CSN noted 458 cases of mortgage and debt relief services, having the entire victim population lose $600,000 in total.
9. Travel, Vacations, and Timeshares
Numerous vacation comparison services plus the enormous population of vacation goers in 2019 kept looking for the best deals and packages online. Truthfully, those who did their research due diligence paid off. Many individuals who trusted unregistered services with staggering package deals got scammed.
In 2019, CSN noted about 446 cases of travel, vacations, and timeshare fraud, incurring the fourth-highest total loss of $4.9 million with the second-highest individual loss average at $3,959.
10. Advance Payments for Credit Services
This fraudulent activity is a natural evolution of advance payments and upfront fees to deliver credit cards at an earlier date. It’s illegal in the US to solicit payment to speed up any transaction, such as credit card releases.
Unfortunately, 291 cases in 2019’s CSN report show that many Americans still fall for the same trap, leaving their victims losing a staggering average of $1,133 per individual with a total of $700,000 in that year alone.
Top 5 Identity Theft Types in 2019
*Data from CONSUMER SENTINEL NETWORK Data Book 2019
The Consumer Sentinel Network report 2019 indicates the top five identity theft methods of scammers. Active bad actors still use these methods to urge unsuspecting borrowers to share their delicate information. Take note that the same individuals can report each identity theft case multiple times.
1. Credit Card Fraud on New Accounts
The economic downturn and inflation in America have left many citizens looking for credit alternatives to revive their junk scores. Scammers posing as credit institutions gain access to these unsuspecting victims’ accounts, allowing them to siphon their bank details.
The CSN report records identity theft gateways from false credit card registration portals as the highest at 246,763 cases in 2019.
2. Miscellaneous Identity Theft
The internet is many things, and an avenue for easy identity theft is one of them. From CSN’s 2019 data compiled from payment services, online shopping, email, social media, and other identity theft methods, these small categories’ total is 166,875. Individually, their figures are negligible, but this collective figure indicates the height of credit fraud surpassing all of them in the same year.
3. Loan and Lease Fraud
Next to mobile phone promotion and registration fraud, loans and leases are virtually 1,000 cases lower than the latter at 43,919. Most of the cases come from loan sharks, which use harassment tactics and reputation-damaging activities using the victim’s delicate information, such as their social security number. On the other hand, scammers posing as loan providers without registration entice victims with low-interest loans and leases with affordable rates.
4. Mobile Telephone Fraud on New Accounts
In 2019, 44,208 individuals suffered from massive telephone registration fraud. Most victims report about false free smartphone deals, affordable plans, and fraudulent promotions. This identity theft category had scammers harvest their delicate personal information and identification.
5. Bank Fraud
America’s banking system and registration is strict and difficult for just anyone to pose as a bank to siphon an investor or depositor’s money. However, the CSN 2019 report still shows many Americans failing to avoid phishing emails posing as bank customer support employees. In that year, they’ve recorded 58,723 cases of bank fraud ranging from phishing to official-sounding telemarketing offers, which leave many victims with a fully-drained bank account
Which Ages Are Common Identity Theft Targets?
*Data from CONSUMER SENTINEL NETWORK Data Book 2019
Mid-Level Professionals (30-39)
Individuals who have reached medium-level occupations, such as employees starting families, making investments, experimenting with business ventures, have the highest number of victims at 170,000, according to CSN 2019’s Data Book.
High-Level Professionals (40-49)
In second are professionals who make critical decisions on company matters and operations. Victims in this age range have a population of 123,000.
Young Professionals (20-29)
Entry-level employees and part-time workers building their professional resumes are often targets of personal, payday, and other loan offers from loan sharks. The victim population is at 111,000.
Prospective Retirees (50-59)
Non-tech savvy employees nearing their retirement age are a hot target because of their lucrative retirement pots. About 55,000 of 2019’s identity theft victims are from this age range.
About 45,000 retirees in 2019 became targets for scammers because they target employees nearing their retirement age.
Usual Avenues for Identity Theft
Digital footprints are much more common and have an enormous impact on social networks. Scammers can use your age, middle name, email addresses, and other information to glean to penetrate your accounts. Many robbers even use social media photos to identify the property owner’s interior layouts.
Loans at seemingly affordable rates are attractive for many would-be victims. If it’s too good to be true, and your lender has no license, don’t go for it.
Innocent-looking surveys and applications you can connect to your social network login can compromise your confidential information. If you’re dealing with surveys that keep asking about your middle initial, mother’s name, and other critical information, stop answering — the incentive isn’t worth it.
The classic email asking you to register and verify your account using a third-party, unofficial domain is still tricky because of its design. However, they’ve become easier to spot than ever before if you take notice. Read here how can you recognize a Phishing Email.
Your Personal Data is a Treasure Trove for Scammers
Here are the most common ways scammers can exploit your bank accounts:
Bank Account Drain
Scammers will siphon everything in your bank account, retirement fund, and anything they can lay their hands on.
Apply For Lines of Credit in Your Name
By compromising your employee, government, or any weighted ID compromised, scammers can apply for loans using your credit rating and name.
Access Your Government Aid and Benefit Accounts
If you’re qualified for veteran benefits, grants, and other government aids, scammers with your identification can quickly access these details.
Impersonate As You to Victimize Others in Your Network
At the very least, scammers can impersonate you and trick your family, friends, and colleagues into siphoning money from them, damaging your reputation in the process.
Personal Data Prices in Dark Web and Black Markets
All data comes from VPN Mentor, which they updated last December 2020.
- Credit Cards: $0.50 – $20
- Credit Cards With Personal Details: $1 – $45
- Credit Cards With Magnetic Strip Data: $5 – $60
- Online Wallets: $1-$100
- Medical Records: $0.10 – $35
- Gaming Accounts: $0.50 – $12
- Streaming Accounts: $0.10 – $10
- Email and Social:$0.50 – $25
- Bank Account Logins: 0.5 – 10% of total account value
- IDs and Passports: $1 – $35
- Gift Cards: 15 – 50% of value
Usual Method of Contact
Scammers will try to convince and manipulate you to share confidential data using the following channels:
- Telephone: About 70% of scammers contacted victims using a call and posed as professionals.
- Email: Professionals who received fraudulent and phishing email offers from scammers make up about 10% of the total contact method.
- Landing Page: A professional-looking website from scammers has tricked about 8% of victims it came in contact with.
- Snail Mail: Victims who received false traditional mail offers make up 5% of scammer contacts, the remaining 7% being other methods, including SMS, social network chats, and more.
Warning Signs You’re/You’ve Been Scammed
You’re being scammed if you encounter any of the following:
Unusual Communication Asking For Personal Information
If they mention anything about your employer, creditor, and other parties that are important to your professional and personal life, ask the scammer to call once again because you need to verify their purpose.
False Emails Asking to ‘Confirm’ or ‘Validate’ Your Personal Information
Many phishing emails use a third-party website different from the official login portals. Always look for false URLs and typographical errors in emails.
Odd Programs Asking to Run Without Executing Them
You can avoid this by downloading legitimate software and avoid clicking on pop-up advertisements.
Friend Requests From Strangers
If you don’t know them in real life, don’t allow them to add or communicate with you.
How Can You Prevent Identity Theft?
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things you can do to avoid being victims of unscrupulous scammers and criminals:
- Don’t Share Your Personal Information and Passwords to Anyone
- Change Your Passwords Every Two Weeks
- Use Powerful Password Generators
- Turn on Two-Factor Authentication
- Avoid Answering Surveys From Unreliable Sources
- Be Suspicious of Any File From Emails
How to Report Identity Theft
An Ounce of Prevention is Always Worth a Pound of Cure
To stop becoming a victim, always be aware of the circumstance. Question the other party’s motives when they ask you to divulge critical information. Performing all preventative recommendations above will always save you from the many criminal attempts of unscrupulous scammers.