The truth is that it is next to impossible to protect against identity theft entirely. The only thing we can do is take steps to protect ourselves. This involves being aware of the myriad of different routes identity thieves take to access your information and what they do with that data once it is in their hands. Here are a few ways in which hackers can steal your identity that you might not be familiar with:
- Frequent flier miles: The key to understanding what an identity thief will take is to remember that they are stealing — which means that whatever data they are taking needs to be valuable. So it’s unlikely that photos of your Labradoodle are at risk. Your frequent flier miles, on the other hand, are fair game. In December 2014 some 10,000 American Airlines and United accounts were hacked, according to the Associated Press. In at least two cases cyber thieves used the information they had gathered to book free flights and upgrades. How did they do it? By stealing members’ login credentials to gain access to their accounts. It’s important to keep an eye on online accounts and to change passwords regularly. Remember that unique and complex passwords are harder to hack.
- Health insurance: With medical costs for the noninsured reaching into the thousands it’s no wonder that many consider health insurance a valuable commodity worth stealing. Identity thieves will use your benefits to obtain medical services and leave you with their health records and the bill. Many times people don’t even notice that their records are wrong until they receive an Explanation of Benefits statement for services they didn’t use, or have a doctor tell them they received treatment for a condition they don’t have. It’s a good idea to read your insurance paperwork regularly to make sure everything is in order.
- Company chat systems: Most business use some sort of interoffice chat system, such as HipChat or Slack. In the past few months both of these services have suffered data breaches. In February hackers stole usernames, email addresses and passwords from HipChat, and in March Slack discovered that hackers had gotten their hands on usernames, email addresses, phone numbers and Skype IDs for Slack users. This is another instance where it is important to regularly change your password.
- Ransomware: There are viruses that cyber criminals can use to access your computer and encrypt all your files so that you cannot use them. The thieves hold the computer in “ransom” until victims pay them money or hand over sensitive information. Unfortunately, there’s little way to get rid of the virus after it is on your computer, so the best cure in this case is prevention. To avoid these kinds of viruses it is important to keep security up to date, back up your files regularly, don’t click on suspicious links and don’t open emails from people you don’t know.
Identity theft is here to stay. As long as thieves can find ways to access data it is up to us to stay vigilant and actively seek protection from identity theft.