As we choose to reveal more and more personal information to others via blogs, social networks, and email, privacy concerns are of paramount importance. Although most of us simply don’t want our personal lives to intersect with our professional lives, a far bigger threat is identity theft, the fastest growing crime in our nation today, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
What is identity theft?
The term identity theft is used in both a broad sense and a narrow sense, further contributing to the difficulty of quantifying the scope of the crime. Basically, it is the fraudulent use of another’s personal information for some sort of gain. However, note that a hacked email or social network account is not legally considered to be identity theft!
Oftentimes, a criminal can obtain someone’s information with relative ease, but the repercussions can echo far into the future as the victim attempts to re-establish his or her good name.
How does it work?
Sensitive information can be obtained in a variety of ways—someone could glance over your shoulder as you type in a credit card number for an online purchase; a customer in line behind you could catch a glimpse of your PIN; a thief could steal your wallet containing the credit cards you hold most dear. Remotely, someone could hack into your accounts online or scams could trick you into revealing more than you intended.
To what end?
Most criminals stand to gain financially—they could rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but they could also steal someone’s identity to pose as another in real life, or attempt to usurp another’s medical benefits.
How can I protect myself?
Most importantly, be extremely selective when giving out personal information and always err on the side of caution. Tear up junk mail, credit card offers, etc before throwing them out. Choose smart passwords and protect your information. A burgeoning treasure trove of information, however, is readily found online, and as privacy concerns grow, everyone needs to learn to have a less accessible presence online.