Every time you open a new account, the first thing you do is create a password. If you know how to set up a strong password, you've already taken the first vital step to protecting your personal information.
Yet, your private information remains at risk for use in accounts you haven't opened.
Let me explain.
Identity thieves can use somebody else's personal information and good credit score to open a new financial account. They might apply for a credit card or take out a loan – a financial obligation that the victim has no idea exists. This is called new account fraud.
New account fraud is a fast-growing area of identity theft crime. While credit card fraud decreased from 2017 to 2018, losses from new account fraud increased by $400 million over the same period.
The most common type of new account fraud is using someone else's information to apply for a credit card. The real growth in new account fraud comes from new mortgages, cars, and student loan applications.
How identity thieves steal personal information for new accounts
Identity thieves have four main routes for stealing the personal information they need to open a fraudulent account.
- Stealing snail mail. Think about all the credit card and loan solicitation offers you get in the mail. The applications are pre-filled with private information. Other types of physical mail also contain valuable personal information.
- Using the internet to steal personal data about you. For example, a cybercriminal might send an email phishing for your birth date or social security number, or use malware to access the data. These attacks can target you directly, your employer, or a large commercial entity.
- An identity thief can go to the dark web to buy personal information stolen by someone else. When a data breach occurs at a company, it usually ends up for sale on the dark web to other criminals.
- Their newest method is to create a synthetic identity. A synthetic identity uses a blend of real and fake information to create a unique, false identity. An identity thief may even combine real data from different people to develop the synthetic identity.
Despite these different routes for engaging in new account fraud, you have different routes to protect your privacy.
Ways to reduce the risk of new account fraud
You're not alone in the fight to protect your private information.
Your first layer of protection should come from the financial institutions themselves. Improved technology and detection methods have helped credit card companies to reduce credit card fraud. Financial institutions can use technology to enhance the detection of suspicious activity or identities in their new account open and loan origination processes.
Your second layer of protection is you going on the offense. Using an identity protection service, like PrivacyArmor, can provide many tools to help reduce your risk of identity theft. Javelin Strategy & Research's recent report on identity theft found that,
"In 2018, the most common way new account fraud victims detected that accounts had been opened in their name was through notification from a credit monitoring or identity protection service…. With the most pronounced growth in loan products such as mortgages, car loans, and HELOCs (Home Equity Line of Credit), victims are much less likely to stumble upon the fraudulent accounts on their own, and the organizations holding the loans are less likely to have a clear way to contact victims directly."
Keep in mind that credit monitoring watches for changes in your credit score and requests made to credit reporting agencies about your credit score. Credit monitoring is part of what the PrivacyArmor service does, but InfoArmor also takes a broader perspective. We use technology and human intelligence together to monitor a wide range of transactions and platforms proactively.
We send you an alert notifying you whenever specific actions are taken with your information. A new loan application or fund transfer request are two examples. When you get our alert, you can confirm the transaction is legitimate or call for our remediation assistance. PrivacyArmor Plus subscribers also have one million dollars in identity theft liability protection, which can cover the financial liability incurred with the new account and the costs of restoring your identity.
Lastly, here are some steps you can take today that may reduce your risk:
- Put a credit freeze on your credit reports. This stops lenders from reviewing your credit without your specific approval. Remember to place a credit freeze with all three major credit bureaus.
- If you shop online, don’t check the box that lets the website store your credit card information for future purchases.
- Be aware of phishing schemes. These are emails that ask for personal information, usually in the guise of needing “to confirm” your birthdate or some other valuable piece of personal data. They try to scare you by sounding official and urgent. Legitimate organizations don’t use email to collect your personal information.
- Don’t give out personal information to someone calling from a phone number you don’t know — especially if they claim to be a bank, credit card company, insurance firm, bill collector, or government agency. Instead, if you think they might be legitimate (e.g. warning of a breach, or a potential problem with your account), take down the information and hang up. Look up the official phone number of the organization who claims to have contacted you and tell them about the call. They’ll either verify the situation so you can fix it, or you’ll both learn it was a scam.
- Opt out of getting snail mail to stop those credit card solicitations. You can go to optoutprescreen.com to stop them. You can stop other types of junk mail here. Another option is to contact the sender directly. You can also use PrivacyArmor’s tool that makes opting out easy.
The good news is you’ve learned there’s a lot you can do proactively to protect yourself and your family. These are steps you can take today – including subscribing to an identity theft protection service such as PrivacyArmor – that make it far more difficult for hackers and other criminals to get your private information and use it for nefarious purposes.