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Identity Theft – Trends and Preventive Measures

By Ryan L. Kaiser, CFE, Assistant Fraud Risk Manager, Canandaigua National Bank & Trust

As technology continues to evolve, fraudsters also innovate and expand their strategies to new avenues to steal identities and commit financial fraud. Today, fraudsters are easily able to cover their tracks by using tools which spoof phone numbers, disguise voices, or mask IP address locations. Combine all this with low prosecution rates for identity theft through law enforcement and it’s clear that identity theft is a problem that’s not going away anytime soon. Review the below information on the current identity theft landscape, and steps you can take to protect yourself.

Key Stats

  • The FTC reported a 113% year-over-year increase in reported identity theft complaints in 2020.
  • 33% of adults in the United States have experienced some form of identity theft.
  • There’s a new victim of identity theft every 2 seconds.
  • Consumers lost over $56B to identity theft and fraud in 2020.
  • A 2,920% increase in government benefit scams were observed in 2020, largely a result of fraudsters targeting commercial and consumer assistance programs deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 77% of identity theft victims report feelings of emotional distress related to the fraud incidents.

How Are Identities Stolen?

  • Social engineering / technology scams - a trending common scheme involves calls from fraudsters posing as employees at companies such as Apple or Amazon, stating they need to log in remotely to a victim’s computer to fix a problem with an account.
  • Email or text message phishing – fraudulent emails or texts generally are disguised to appear as if they come from legitimate product or service providers, enticing consumers to click a link. Once the link is clicked, malware is typically deployed, or the consumer is prompted to turn over sensitive personal information.
  • Social media reconnaissance - bad actors leverage social media profiles to find potential answers to common challenge questions or to leverage publicly provided personal information for the purpose of creating synthetic identities.
  • Data breaches - identity theft is the most common consequence of a data breach, occurring 65% of the time.
  • Document theft – identity thieves are not above dumpster diving or going door-to-door to check mailboxes for documents that contain sensitive information such as account numbers, social security numbers, or medical information.

Best Practices for Protection

  • Trust your gut – if you receive an unsolicited phone call or email and something seems wrong, you are probably correct; do not engage!
  • Check financial or bank statements regularly, reviewing carefully for unauthorized activity, transactions which you did not initiate, or anything else that seems out of the ordinary.
  • Check credit reports regularly for potential fraudulent loans or lines of credit opened in your name.
  • Use strong, complex passwords and update them frequently.
  • Do not use the same password for more than one account.
  • Use multi-factor authentication on accounts where it is offered.
  • Be cautious about what information you share online via social media; consider adjusting your privacy settings on social media profiles.
  • Avoid social media quizzes which poll users for specific personal information - fraudsters can leverage this data to commit identity theft!
  • Consider going paperless for bills or account statements to mitigate potential document theft risk.
  • Safely dispose of old or outdated documents containing personal information, such as old credit cards, tax returns, medical records, bank statements, or utility bills.

If your identity has been stolen – consider the following steps –

  • Contact the companies where the fraud occurred to inform them of the incident.
  • Report the incident to the FTC.
  • Consider setting up a credit freeze or block with the credit bureaus for protection moving forward.
  • Consider having your devices checked by an IT professional for potential malware/virus threats.
  • Change applicable passwords.
  • Contact your bank.
  • Consider closing an account and opening a new one if the incident occurred with a service provider you do conduct business with.
  • Report the incident to law enforcement if you feel inclined.

Questions related to identity theft or fraud? Feel free to contact us for additional information. CNB employs a team of fully certified fraud professionals who are available to assist customers with fraud-related questions and incidents.