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How Does Identity Theft Protection Work?

Nadav Shemer
How Does Identity Theft Protection Work?
Identity theft has been happening since at least the middle ages, when impostors would claim to be emperors. It didn’t really become a concern for common folk until the introduction of photo ID, like passports and drivers licences about a century ago. Even then, the threat of home burglary was far greater than identity theft.

The digital age, with all its accompanying benefits, has changed all that. These days, criminals can steal your personal information by any number of means, including hacking, phishing, and malware. 

Fortunately, there are ways to stay ahead of the game and protect yourself and your family.

How Thieves Can Steal Your Identity

The following are examples of some of the ways in which thieves can steal your personal information. Some of these methods are digital, others involve old-fashioned physical theft. All forms of theft put you at risk.

Hacking: This is a broad term that refers to any unauthorized login to a computer or network. It can include large data breaches, like the one discovered by Marriott in 2018 that compromised 500 million customers. It can also include direct hacking of your computer by someone with either physical or remote access to it. 

Phishing: This is a common ploy where scammers send an unsolicited email offering you something that requires you to supply personal info and login credentials. The scammers then use your information to break into your accounts and steal your identity, credit cards, or money.

Malware: Like phishing, this involves unsolicited messages with dubious links or attachments. If you click the link or open the attachment, malicious software gets installed on your computer and extracts your personal information.

Phone scams: One of the older tricks in the book, it involves scammers pretending to represent a financial or a government institution like the IRS or a bank in order to convince a person to give over their personal information.

Dumpster Diving: Criminals don’t always do things remotely; sometimes they might steal things from right under your nose. This ploy involves going through your trash for sensitive documents like bank statements.

Identity Theft Protection Step #1: Downloadable Cybersecurity Software

The front line of protection against identity theft is at the source itself: your electronic devices. Just as you would protect your physical property with locks, alarms, or cameras, you can protect your computer with antivirus software. Antivirus typically includes anti-malware too, notifying you when a link can’t be trusted and helping to remove an offending virus if it actually gets through your defenses.

The best antivirus providers offer the following:

  • All-around virus protection, including assistance from an expert if your device is compromised.
  • Firewall that protects against unauthorized access to your personal files and sensitive information.
  • Automatic updates to ensure your antivirus software contains all the latest features and protections.
  • Support across multiple devices including PC, Mac, and iOS and Android mobile devices.
  • Cloud backup of photos, financial files, and other important documents.
  • Family safety features so your kids can use the internet securely.

Identity Theft Protection Type #2: Monitoring Services

If antivirus software is preventative, then monitoring services are curative. Monitoring services exist to alert you when criminals attempt to use your information to open financial accounts, take out credit cards, or commit other financial crimes. Monitoring service providers also typically offer restoration services, helping you reclaim your stolen identity.

Here are some of the things you can expect to receive from the best monitoring services:

  • Credit monitoring: This includes monitoring of the 3 major credit reporting bureaus Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, for suspicious behavior. You should receive notification when the bureaus record an application or opening of a bank account, loan, or credit card in your name.
  • Credit score alerts: This is similar to credit monitoring, notifying you whenever there’s a significant change to your credit score.
  • Dark Web surveillance: This involves monitoring of the internet for illegal trading and selling of your personal details such as name, address, credit card numbers, and Social Security number.
  • Mail change alerts: Activates whenever someone changes your billing address.
  • Financial account takeover alerts: Notifies you when someone applies for or opens a bank account or credit card in your name.
  • SSN monitoring: Alerts you when someone else’s name or address is linked to your Social Security number.
  • Payday loan monitoring: Alerts you if a payday loan (a loan with a short term and very high interest) is opened in your name.
  • Criminal record monitoring: Scans court and prison services records for crimes committed in your name.
  • Child monitoring: Includes alerts and restoration services if your child’s identity is compromised. Most monitoring services restrict eligibility to children aged no older than their early 20s and still living at home.
  • Theft insurance, usually up to $1 million, covering costs associated with identity theft recovery.
  • Designated restoration specialist to guide you through the process of reclaiming your identity.
  • Lost wallet replacement assistance.

How to Choose the Right Identity Theft Protection Service

Identity theft protection is a bit like car insurance: everyone could do with a basic form of coverage, but beyond that our needs vary. If you use online banking, store sensitive information on your computer or mobile, or have children that use the internet—all these things put you at elevated risk of identity theft. If you do everything offline, you may be at lower risk, although in this day and age nobody is ever truly at zero risk.

Before deciding who to go to for identity theft protection, first think about your needs. Then compare the different service providers for things like price, features, and level of customer service. While customer service is important in all industries, it’s particularly important in this one because you may one day need dedicated assistance to help protect or restore your information.

Finally, be cautious about giving out your personal information. Don’t click on suspicious links, don’t leave your bank statements in the trash, and educate your children about the risks of identity theft. By taking the right personal steps, you decrease the risks of having your information stolen. Antivirus and monitoring services should only be there to fill in the gaps.

Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He writes for top10.com where he discusses the latest innovations in financial services and products.