• Robert Ryerson

What You Need to Know about Recent Identity Theft Developments

Identity theft is an increasingly common concern that involves the unsolicited use of another individual’s personal information for financial gain. The Javelin Strategy & Research 2019 Identity Fraud Study found that 14.4 million people in the US were victims of identity theft in 2018. This number was down from the year prior (16.7 million), but those who were targeted in 2018 had higher out-of-pocket fraud costs than victims in 2017.


As different identity theft protection services and precautions are promoted, fraudsters will seek out alternative ways in which to exploit others. For instance, a significant amount of scamming and identity theft activity in 2020 was related to federal stimulus payments distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Below are three recent developments concerning identity theft:


Pandemic and Online Shopping Increasing Risk


The COVID-19 pandemic has not only killed many Americans but also drastically transformed the lives of others still living. More than 20 million US citizens were unemployed as of May 2020 compared to 6.2 million in February.


Many businesses, including retailers, were forced to either shut down or suspend in-store operations to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Online shopping surged as a result.


The proliferation of online shopping portals has helped Americans—and individuals worldwide—obtain essential and non-essential items throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, it has also had negative consequences with regard to identity theft.


According to OpSec Security’s Annual Consumer Barometer, which surveyed 2,600 consumers worldwide, 86 percent of all consumers were on the receiving end of identity or credit/debit card theft in 2020. This is up from 80 percent in 2019. Moreover, the survey highlighted declining consumer confidence in purchasing items via online marketplaces, social media advertisements, and apps.


The survey also looked into the level of due diligence conducted by consumers prior to purchasing from an online retailer. Only 54 percent of the 2,600 respondents ensured the companies they purchase from are reputable. Further, only 23 percent completed additional research on the brand via social media.


Even more concerning, less than half of respondents verify the websites from which they purchase items have an SSL certificate, which signifies a secure connection between the browser and web server. Clearly, consumers need to better educate themselves about the risks of online shopping.


“For example, cybercriminals can still simply sign up for a free 90-day SSL certificate for their website to give it a fake air of legitimacy, which many consumers are likely to be unaware of,” explained OpSec Security senior vice president Bill Birnie. “As the increased use of online services is likely to drive long-term changes in consumerism, companies must engage expert partners to put protective steps in place to lessen possible attacks on their customers and maintain that all-important customer trust.”


Businesses Targeted by Tax ID Thieves


It’s not only individuals who need to be wary of identity theft. More than 70 percent of all cyberattacks, for instance, are directed at small companies—those with fewer than 100 employees. Cyber criminals targeting these businesses are typically looking to steal credit card or employee information for the purpose of identity theft.


Cyber criminals are also filing fraudulent tax returns on behalf of the targeted businesses. This has become so prevalent that in December 2020, IRS commissioner Charles Rettig issued a statement that warned businesses to take appropriate precautions.


These businesses should follow FTC best practices which include backing up important files and utilizing multi-factor authentication, among other guidelines. Moreover, the IRS planned to start masking sensitive information from corporate tax return summaries on December 13. It also launched Form 14039-B, Business Identity Theft Affidavit, which companies can use to proactively alert the IRS to suspected identity theft.


Florida Ranked Most Vulnerable for ID Theft


While everyone is at risk of being a victim of identity theft, those who live in Florida are particularly susceptible, at least according to WalletHub. The Sunshine State ranked first in WalletHub’s list of states with the most identity theft and fraud with a total score of 72.33.


Only two other states—South Carolina and Delaware—had scores higher than 70. In contrast, Wyoming, which ranked last on the list, had a score of 34.73. Scores were determined through metrics such as identity theft complaints and average loss due to identity theft.


How to Protect Yourself


Beyond identity theft education, there are several proactive measures individuals can take to secure their personal information. For starters, avoid opening emails from unrecognizable accounts and don’t download files from unknown sources. If entering personal information into an online form, make sure the website on which it is based has the “https” prefix in its URL.


Identity theft protection services like ID Shield, from parent Legal Shield, can help protect against online fraud. ID Shield is the only major ID theft protection service to come with licensed professional investigators from Kroll, the global security giant. Rather than needing to fight what is often a multi-week or months-long battel to restore your identity to pre-breech status on your own, the licensed Kroll investigator does that on your behalf, after you sign a simple limited power of attorney. Since “prevention” of ID theft is not realistic ( we cannot protect all of our personal info that is in the cloud or out of our control), then a strong restoration plan is the key to giving yourself true protection over time.