One of the most alarming aspects of personal data theft is the threat to an individual’s financial situation. Identity thieves often want to gain control of someone’s identity for the purpose of gaining access to finances, including bank accounts and lines of credit. Thieves can use personal information to take out loans, credit cards, even mortgages. They can use a Social Security Number to file for a tax refund. The IRS reported earlier this year that it had stopped the distribution of $4.2 billion in fraudulent tax refunds associated with 860,000 tax returns that involved identity theft. According to Javelin research, the average identity theft victim spends 500 hours and more than $3,000 repairing the damage done to their credit.
The dangers of personal data theft go beyond financial repercussions. Medical ID theft is now the fastest growing type of fraud. The Medical Identity Fraud Alliance found that the number of medical identity theft victims has increased significantly this year – by 19% from 1.5 million victims in 2012 to 1.8 million in 2013. Medical fraud is especially alarming, as identity thieves can use stolen health-insurance numbers to file false claims, secure prescriptions or even gain access to medical care, which often results in incorrect medical records, misdiagnoses, incorrect prescriptions and high medical bills for the victim.
Even seemingly innocuous personal information like an email address or a pet’s name can hold value to identity thieves. As we share more online, we make it easier for identity thieves to piece together profiles that can be used for fraud. For example, a pet’s name and mother’s maiden name can be used to answer common password reset security questions or even be used as a password. And while it may seem time intensive for an identity thief to guess a password on each and every banking and ecommerce site out there, it’s not. There are programs available that can test a suspected login credential against hundreds of ecommerce sites or financial sites in a matter of seconds. All the identity thief needs is an email address and a guess at a password.
The bottom line
Personal data theft can have major repercussions ranging from financial annoyances to financial ruin, from a hacked social media profile to a compromised Amazon account. Evolving digital trends such as a propensity to share more and more online have caused cyber criminals to reimagine ways to steal personal data. People can best defend against cyber criminals by staying educated, keeping abreast of their credit reports and medical records, being cognizant of what they share online, and using an identity monitoring service that can keep an eye on their identity in obscure places online and offline. The risks and repercussions of personal data theft apply to everyone. Be aware of these risks and always take a proactive approach to defend against the ever-evolving trends in personal data theft.
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