What is identity theft and how do you prevent it?

What if someone suddenly pretends to be you? You hear it more and more often, someone’s data has been stolen and used for criminal activities.

According to recent data, identity fraud is reported about 500 times a day in the Netherlands (NRC, 2016). So it happens thousands of times a week, with all the consequences that entail. This way you can lose a lot of money or you will be wrongly known as a scammer.

But what exactly is identity theft? How do criminals get your personal information, and can you prevent it? In this article, you can read how you can adequately protect yourself against identity fraud.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft does not simply involve stealing personal data, there are many ways in which this type of crime takes place. One variant is also much more harmful than the other. Broadly speaking, there are 3 types of identity fraud:

Criminals falsify their own identity

Falsification of one’s own identity involves changes to the perpetrator’s own personal data. You can think of changing the date of birth on the passport. This is a relatively harmless variant of identity fraud in which other people suffer little damage.

Criminals create a whole new false identity

This form of identity theft is most common on the internet. The perpetrator creates a fake account on social media or a website such as Marktplaats. So this is a completely new identity, not an ID stolen from someone else. With this fake account, the perpetrator pretends to be someone else, in order to scam people with impunity. When a report is made, only the non-existent identity will be prosecuted. Criminals often get away with their fraud with impunity.

Criminals misuse someone else’s data

Identity theft means that someone has stolen your personal information. Then the criminal tries to credibly pretend to be you. With this, he tries to scam victims under your name. Or better yet, they can scam you. Sometimes a criminal can gain access to your computer system and/or services on the internet. Your payment details can be stolen. This is the most dangerous form of identity theft, as it can cause substantial financial loss. Or worse, you could even get a criminal record or jail time for something you didn’t do.

How do criminals get your personal information?

There are many ways criminals can obtain your personal information. Below you can read about the 3 most common ways of identity theft.

Accidentally giving away personal data

The first way is accidentally giving away your data. You can think of data that you throw away and are found among the waste. But it can also be accidentally handed over in a very different way. Sensitive data is also shared on social media. For example, people post their driver’s license on Facebook when they obtain it. This is not wise, because your driver’s license contains sensitive information that others can abuse.

Misleading victims into handing over data

The second way is to mislead victims. Criminals mislead their victims and steal the victim’s personal data. In doing so, the perpetrators convincingly try to have the victim voluntarily hand over personal data. This happens, for example, on Marktplaats. Criminals then offer highly desirable products. They then ask the victim to hand over their personal data, which they do to supposedly verify whether the victim is who he/she claims to be. In reality, the criminals now have your payment details, with which they can then carry out illegal activities. This same principle is used on job boards. A criminal posts a fake job posting and asks applicants to hand over their personal information.

But tricking people into handing over data also happens on a large scale through emails. This is also known as phishing. E-mails are distributed with links to fake websites that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. You often have to fill in your details. These are then sent to the criminals. The perpetrators can then misuse this sensitive information.

Stealing data by hacking

The third way is to steal data. This often involves hackers who force access to your personal data. For example, they hack your computer and gain access to all your accounts and files. But criminals can also steal your data on the internet. Then they hack your account from a website. In exceptional cases, criminals even manage to hack into an entire website/Cloud service. Your data may also be stolen.

Hackers can also steal your data by intercepting your internet traffic. These are called MITM attacks. There are many ways this can happen. It can happen on your home network or on the connection between your ISP and a website, but the most common way is through public Wi-Fi. Examples of public Wi-Fi are the networks in the train station, the centre of your city or the airport. Hackers can then set up a fake WiFi network, which is very similar to the real network, but if you connect to it, they can monitor all your internet traffic. You can easily disclose sensitive information.

Tips to prevent identity theft

Now that you know what identity fraud is and how it works, it is of course good to know how you can prevent it. Below we will give some practical tips to prevent ID fraud.

Use the internet wisely

The easiest and quickest way to prevent identity theft is to use the internet wisely. Never post fraud-sensitive personal data on social media. Also, do not share identity data via Marktplaats. If the seller insists on this, cross out your Citizen Service Number (as shown on the right). Furthermore, some fraudulent websites ask for a check payment. This is a payment of 1 euro cent to a specific account number. Do not do this because this will give them your account number and full name.

As described earlier in this article, criminals can also steal your data by intercepting your internet traffic. You can avoid this with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts all your internet traffic, so criminals who intercept this data can do nothing with it. They would then have to decrypt this encryption first. This is practically impossible. This allows you to securely connect to any public network with a VPN. Do you want to prevent interception of your internet traffic? Then check out our best VPN providers at the moment.

Secure all your accounts with strong passwords

The second way is to secure your accounts on all your devices. We recommend using many different unique passwords. Of course, it is difficult to remember all these passwords, but nowadays there are many programs that allow you to manage your passwords. These types of applications are called password managers. If you want to manage your passwords securely, check out the best password managers.

Safe handling of sensitive information

The third way to prevent fraud is to be safe with your devices and sensitive information. It is therefore wise to erase data from devices that you no longer use or are going to sell. If you share your computer, we recommend that you store sensitive information encrypted on this computer (so that only you can access it).

Do not share personal data with third parties

The fourth way to prevent identity fraud is by never sharing personal data with third parties (over the phone). Sometimes personal data is stolen over the telephone. This works as follows. Criminals call people and say they are calling on behalf of the bank. They then ask for the bank account number of your debit card. If you give this they use this account number to buy all kinds of things while you have to pay for them. The advice is clear. Never give your payment details over the phone, your real bank would never ask for this over the phone.

How do you know if your identity has been stolen?

There are several signs that can tell you that your identity has been stolen. It is important to determine as soon as possible whether identity theft has taken place. Every hour that you don’t take action can cause you a lot of financial damage. Below we give you a number of signals that indicate that your identity has been stolen by criminals.

Unknown accounts

One of the most worrisome and alarming signs is receiving bills for products that you have not purchased. This indicates that your payment information has been stolen and that someone else is buying products on your behalf. The same applies to bank statements that you do not recognize. Even then, a criminal has obtained your payment details.

Unknown deliveries

A second signal is receiving a delivery confirmation for a product that you have not ordered. This means that someone has bought a product with your email or payment details.

Unusual account activity

A third signal is receiving emails reporting unusual activity on one of your accounts. You may receive an email informing you that your account details have been changed. If this is the case without you having done so, this indicates that someone else has access to your account.

Signals on social media

The fourth signal applies to social media. When your social media account has been hacked, it can have a major impact on your social network. You can think of accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. It will happen to you that you are suddenly approached by a family member or friend with the message that you are posting weird messages on Facebook. This is a clear sign that your social media account has been hacked. But there are more signs to watch out for on social media. For example, it is worrying if you are accused of fraudulent practices on social media. This could mean that someone is falsely scamming victims under your name.

What should you do if your identity is stolen?

There you are at the checkout of the supermarket. It turns out that your debit card suddenly no longer works. This has been blocked because you have spent too much money in one day and that while you have not bought anything yourself. How is that possible? You have probably become a victim of identity fraud and criminals have misused your payment details. Above we described the signs of identity theft, but what should you do if it turns out that you have actually been a victim? It is important to act quickly. It is therefore essential that you take the appropriate steps quickly. If you feel something is wrong, take the following steps:

Block bank accounts

If your payment details have been stolen, you must immediately block your accounts (if this has not already been done by your bank). This prevents criminals from spending with your payment details. You should then contact your bank and ask for the appropriate next steps.

Get your account back

If there is any question of identity theft on the internet, it is important that you quickly log into your account and change the password. If you are no longer able to log in to your account, please contact the customer service of the relevant online service immediately. Explain to them that your account has been stolen and ask how you can get your account back.

Declare

If you have secured your accounts and accounts, it is important that you file a report with the police. Go to the police and report what happened and that you suspect identity theft. It is important that you try to collect as much evidence as possible so that the police have a good idea of ​​what is going on. Perhaps the perpetrators can be tracked down and brought to justice in this way.

Contacting debt collection agencies

Some criminals also get you into financial trouble. You can suddenly be called by collection agencies while you do not owe anyone anything. If this is the case, you should try to get in touch with the collection agencies involved. Tell them that there is identity theft and what the options are to solve the problems. In some cases, the collection agencies are very lenient and a suitable solution is sought together.

Conclusion

What is identity theft and what can you do about it? The three most common ways of identity fraud are: changing your own personal data, creating a new identity or stealing someone else’s personal data. Furthermore, you now know what the signs are that you need to watch out for so that you can react in time in the event of identity theft. Finally, attention was paid to the measures you should take if you are a victim of identity fraud. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of ​​identity fraud and the measures you can take to prevent it.

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