How do thieves steal your identity (and how can you stop it)?

How do thieves steal your identity (and how can you stop it)?
(Image credit: kat wilcox from Pexels)

An increasing problem in today's world is identity theft. But how do thieves steal your identity, and what are the steps you can take to protect yourself and deal with any possible fallout? On a typical day you're likely to encounter dozens of ways your identity can be stolen, even if you're quite careful with your personal information. You don't have to be vulnerable to identity theft to experience it, and the consequences can impact all aspects of your life. 

Signing up to one of the best identity theft protection services is one way of dealing with the problem after it has happened, and plans like Identity Force UltraSecure+Credit will help you stop the breach, recover lost funds, and repair your credit afterwards. But how do you protect yourself before it happens? Here are the ten ways thieves steal your identity, along with a handful of tips on how to reduce the risk of it happening to you.

1. Credit Card Theft

If you're like most people, you use credit cards everywhere, from the supermarket to the neighborhood coffee shop. That means your credit card passes through countless hands and offers many opportunities for a thief to steal your credit card number. If possible, stick to terminals that allow you to swipe your own card, and don't let your card out of your sight.

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2. Insecure Websites

Whenever you shop or make a transaction online, there's a chance an identity thief could intercept your personal information. Before you make your next online purchase, make sure the website is secure. If the URL starts with "https," then you should be safe. If you're concerned about web security, and want to browse anonymously, we suggest you sign up for one of the best VPN services to keep yourself safe online.

3. Phishing

Phishing is an email-based scam in which a thief poses as a real organization, agency or company. A phishing email prompts the reader to enter personal information such as addresses, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. If something seems strange in an email or the message requests too much private data, don't click on the links. To protect yourself from phishing and other types of invasion on your computer, check out the best antivirus software packages.

4. Hacking

Tech-savvy thieves hack into a variety of computer systems, from banks to retail chains, to steal credit card and bank information. Most organizations alert their customers to a security breach as soon as possible. If you receive this type of message, though, confirm whether your data has been compromised and then take steps to close your credit card if necessary.

5. Shoulder Surfing

Though you do your best to act discreetly when typing your PIN at the ATM or your credit card numbers on your smartphone, there's always a chance someone is looking over your shoulder with the intent to steal your personal information. Stop shoulder surfers in their tracks by covering your screen with your hand as you enter personal data in a public setting.

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6. Skimming

Skimming occurs when an identity thief installs an additional device onto an existing ATM or credit card reader. This device can read your credit card information, including your ATM or debit card PIN. If you notice an oddly shaped credit card reader, or there's a noticeable difference in your regular ATM reader, notify the owner and don't use the machine.

7. Fraudulent Credit Reports

If identity thieves want access to your complete credit report, they might pretend to be your employer or a landlord in order to get a free copy. If you suspect someone has tampered with your credit report, contact the credit bureau immediately.

8. Pretexting

Pretexting might be one of the sneakiest methods thieves use to steal your identity. Thieves call banks, utility companies or other organizations and use false pretenses to steal your personal information. If you see new account activity that you haven't initiated, contact the institution right away.

9. Dumpster diving

Identity thieves know that all the credit card junk mail you receive eventually goes into the trash. When thieves go through your discarded trash in search of bank statements or credit card information, this is dumpster diving. Shred your statements or make your account numbers illegible when you throw them away.

10. Mail Theft

Some thieves cut right to the chase and steal your statements or new credit cards directly from your mailbox. If you notice someone has tampered with your mailbox or you think mail is missing, contact your local post office.

Ian has been a journalist for 20 years. He's written for magazines and websites on subjects such as video games, technology, PC hardware, popular (and unpopular) science, gardening and astronomy. In his spare time he has a pet tortoise and grows his own vegetables. He also has a passion for cameras and photography, and has written for TTR on these subjects.