Identity theft involves attempts by cybercriminals to access enough private information (such as their name, their date of birth, and their address) to commit identity fraud.
Identity theft simplified
Anyone can fall victim to identity theft with as little as losing their name, surname, address, and social security number. Identity thieves can use your personal information to commit financial (open new bank accounts, access existing ones, apply for loans), tax (claim tax refunds in your name), medical (apply for medical care or emergencies in your name), and even criminal (avoid criminal responsibility) identity theft or take out Social Security benefits at your expense. Criminals can also perform account takeover to come into possession of your online accounts (online stores and services like Uber, Facebook, Netflix, etc.) using your email address or account ID and password.
Tips to prevent identity theft
Stay informed of data leaks
Keep an eye out for data leaks in the news, especially from companies that have your SSN or ID number. Or use services like Surfshark Alert to notify you.
Be wary of emails
Don’t open suspicious emails, attachments, or URLs. If you’re thinking of opening any links or files, check them on websites like VirusTotal first.
Don’t share your information
Don’t enter your personal data on unknown websites or share it via emails or calls. Remember, if someone’s asking you for your information, treat them with suspicion.
Keep your documents safe
Don’t throw away documents, letters, or bank statements into the trash. Instead, dispose of them in a way that no one would be able to use them afterward.
Change your password
If your password for your email or social media profile gets leaked, change it immediately. Even better, use password managers to generate new passwords and avoid using weak ones.
Identity theft fraud stats
According to the FBI Internet Crime Reports, here's how devastating identity theft scams were from 2015 to 2022:
Average losses and victim count
year over year
Identity theft fraud cases have reached record numbers with 51.6K yearly victims (around 141 victims per day) in 2021.
Victims have reported the highest average financial loss to identity theft scams in 2019 ($10K per victim).
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the number of identity theft cases grew by 170%, but the average financial loss fell by 49% (from $10K to $5.1K) per victim compared to 2019.
Despite the increasing awareness of online crimes, daily financial losses to identity theft scams have grown around three times from 2015 ($157K per day) to 2022 ($518.4K per day).