Identity theft is a crime that can touch just about anyone, from infants to celebrities, but some people are more at risk than others. While it’s important to understand that you could become a victim of identity theft no matter what, in this post we’re outlining four groups of people who are most at risk for identity theft. Keep reading to learn more about who these people are and how you can protect yourself if you fall into one (or more) of these groups.
Children and adults with caregivers
Why they make good targets: Longtime readers of NextAdvisor should recognize by now that child identity theft is a huge problem, but the risk for identity theft extends far beyond those under 18 to adults who require caregivers. Certain demographics of minors are more susceptible to identity theft than others as well, such as foster children, whose social security numbers and other data are often shuffled around or stolen by unscrupulous adults around them. Caregivers, whether family members or paid employees, can also be responsible for committing identity theft toward those they are supposed to be protecting. We wrote about this phenomenon extensively in our post on familiar fraud.
How they can protect themselves: These groups are perhaps the most vulnerable of all because in most circumstances, they lack the knowledge or ability to do anything to protect their own identities and personal information. Many individuals who suffer identity theft as minors don’t discover it until they become adults and need to seek credit. That’s why it’s important for the families, loved ones or other responsible adults in their lives to do what they can to help protect the identities of those in their care. Parents, guardians and caregivers should lock up important documents containing personal and identifiable information, including mail, medical information and social security cards. Talking to your kids about making smart choices online and offline to keep themselves safe from prying eyes is just as important as minding what you share yourself. Requesting a credit freeze, which is also an option for children, may also be a wise idea because this action blocks your credit reports from being shared with new creditors or companies, which means no new accounts can be opened.
Social media users
Why they make good targets: Social media has invaded almost every corner of people’s lives by this point, which means it offers plenty of opportunity for scammers to take advantage. Through schemes like social engineering, old-fashioned hacking and even perusing unprotected profiles and accounts, identity thieves can learn a lot about a person — information which can be used to their advantage. Social media sites allow people to overshare information, as well as connect with strangers in ways they probably wouldn’t face-to-face, which makes them the perfect hunting grounds for identity thieves.
How they can protect themselves: Protecting your privacy on social media can go a long way toward reducing the potential for identity thieves and other scammers to successfully target you by way of them. Make sure you’re using strong passwords for each of your accounts, and take steps to strengthen your privacy settings so nefarious strangers can’t see what you post. Also, be wary of who messages you and what you tell them (as well as what links you click). Compromised accounts or those set up to fool you into thinking they belong to someone you know could be used to trick you into giving out sensitive information or clicking on links that lead to malware or fake websites designed to steal your personal, financial or login information.
Business owners or top-level employees
Why they make good targets: Whether you’re a top-level executive or manager at a large company or own your own small business, you might find yourself increasingly targeted by scams aimed at stealing your credentials or identity. While the stolen identity of a successful or well-off person can be valuable on its own right, even more lucrative for identity thieves when it comes to this kind of scamming is the ability to steal large amounts of employee data, such as W-2s, or money through impersonation — often referred to as business compromise email scams.
How they can protect themselves: Similar to the advice given for social media above, protecting your email and other accounts is vital, as these getting compromised can be the first step toward fraud. Phishing is a huge problem in the U.S., and successful phishing schemes often result in ransomware, a breach in employee data or other serious consequences. Businesses of any size can be lax when it comes to security, but small businesses are at a disadvantage when it comes to cybersecurity because of smaller budgets. It’s important not to skimp on these, as protection of any documents or files containing your personal information or the personal data of your employees is vital. Setting up protocols within your company to follow to ensure that if your email or identity are compromised, a scammer can’t use stolen data to fool employees or business contacts is also a great way to combat cyber attackers.
College students and young adults
Why they make good targets: Last year, we wrote about a study that determined that young adults are actually the most likely targets of scams — not older demographics, as might be expected. Many young adults don’t have a good grasp on their credit or finances, which means they might not be as careful as someone older, and may not know how to check their credit reports to look for potential errors or other signs of misuse of their identity. College students are especially vulnerable to employment, scholarship or apartment rental scams which might be fronts for collecting personal information for use in identity theft, as well as stealing their money.
How they can protect themselves: Parents of young adults can start them off on the right foot by educating their children about personal finance as well as how to safeguard their personal information. Young adults themselves can rely on their intuition when it comes to emails, phone calls or text messages asking for personal information which seem suspicious. Knowing when to divulge sensitive information, such as their social security number, and when to keep it under wraps is important to learn as early as possible. Also, remember that identity thieves are often just as media and tech savvy as you are — so don’t assume that your age will keep you safe from falling victim to a scam.
What should I do if I’ve been a victim of identity theft?
If you or a loved one has been a victim of identity theft — or you think it’s happened — you should report the fraud immediately. You can do so by visiting identitytheft.gov, which helps people navigate through the process of reporting identity theft and creates a recovery plan they can follow to deal with the after effects of having their identity stolen. It’s also important to understand that sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may fall victim to identity theft due to sheer bad luck. Data breaches are, unfortunately, a common source for the stolen personal information floating around on the dark web. Paying attention to your credit reports and noting any out-of-place entries or looking for other signs of identity theft, such as an uptick in mail you didn’t request, can help you catch it early.