Identity theft: Understanding the threat [Part 1]

If you’re worried about how to protect yourself from identity theft, you’re not alone. According to Forbes, people are more worried about having their identity stolen than of their home being broken into.

We spoke with identity theft expert Carrie Kerskie about the threat that identity theft can pose and the best ways to protect yourself and your business. Kerskie is president of Griffon Force and has more than 15 years of experience assisting identity theft and fraud victims.

“Our goal is to empower people with knowledge so they can better protect themselves,” said Kerskie.

In Part One of this two-part series, we’ll discuss current identity theft trends and the three red flags that can help you identify a scam before you provide sensitive information. Part Two will focus on best practices for protecting yourself from the threats.

Current trends

Identity theft scams come in all shapes and sizes and are constantly evolving. According to Kerskie, there are three types of scams that the majority of incidents fall into. Understanding what they are and how they work is your first step to staying safe.

1. Phishing

Phishing is a type of cyberattack, typically in the form of an email, where the sender disguises themselves as a reputable source in an attempt to trick you into handing over sensitive data or information.  Phishing tactics frequently change their approach and may also come in the form of text messages (smishing) or phone calls, covered in more detail below.

Related: Phishing 101: Your 4-part guide to malicious emails

2. Phone scams

Kerskie reports getting at least one call a week from someone who has fallen victim to a phone scam. There are many forms these calls can take, but some of the most common types are  the form of tech support scams where someone calls claiming something is wrong with your computer or someone pretending to be from the IRS or Social Security Administration needing information.

“If they’re calling a thousand people a day, there’s a good chance that at least a percentage of them are having computer problems right at the time they’re calling,” said Kerskie. “Unfortunately most people who fall for this are less tech savvy. They know they’re having an issue and now they’re getting a call from someone wanting to help.”

3. New account fraud

Kerskie reports seeing a rise in criminals opening fraudulent credit cards and home equity lines of credit. The only information needed to open these types of accounts is your name, date of birth, and social security number. The best way to protect yourself from becoming a victim of this type of fraud, according to Kerskie, is to set up a credit freeze on your credit reports. This won’t keep the bad guys from getting your information, but it will prevent them from being able to open new accounts in your name.

We’ll discuss this method of protection in more detail in Part Two of this blog series.

“The scams are always changing and modifying,” said Kerskie. “We no longer advise people to look out for a specific type of scam, instead, we’ve identified three red flags that can help you spot a scam.”

Red flags

Kerskie advises there are three main ways that can help you spot a scam, regardless of the form it takes. If you encounter an email, text, or phone call showing any of these red flags, that’s a good sign you should take a step back and look more closely at the situation.

1. Sense of urgency

Criminals know that people are more likely to make a mistake if they act without thinking. If you get an email, text, or phone call claiming a situation needs immediate attention or is a matter of life or death, take a step back and look for additional red flags.

2. Severe consequence

Following right behind urgency is usually the threat of a severe consequence: Your account is going to be closed or your social security benefits are going to be suspended or you will be arrested or sued. The goal of criminals is to make you act from a place of fear instead of logic.

3. Demanding something specific

Being asked to provide something specific like a gift card or bank account number is another sign that you may be getting scammed. When was the last time your utility company insisted you pay your bill using only one method? Most organizations these days provide multiple, secure ways to make a payment or send money. A demand for a gift card, in particular, is a good sign that things are not right.

“The more people out there preaching awareness, the more people will pay attention to it,” said Kerskie. “Quite often the reason someone falls victim to a scam is because of something they did. If they would have known one little thing prior to that, they never would have been in that situation in the first place.”

How to protect yourself

There are many different steps you can take to protect yourself, your employees, and your business. So many in fact, that we didn’t want to cram them all into the end of this article. Stay tuned for Part Two of our identity theft series, where we’ll discuss best practices for how to deal with scams and protect yourself from becoming a victim.