According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, identity crime involving government benefits, social media accounts, and other scams increased by 36% in 2021 to a record high.
There are a number of methods people may safeguard themselves, which is excellent news.
The ITRC, which recently released an analysis based on internal data, estimates that approximately 15,000 persons reported an identity-related crime or attempted fraud in 2021, up from roughly 11,000 in 2020. Since 2015, incidents have risen by 49%.
The Federal Trade Commission tracks patterns in overall fraud, and that yearly growth reflects those trends. In 2021, consumers reported 5.9 million scams in total to the federal authorities, a 20% rise from 2020. With more than 1.4 million complaints, identity theft was the main offender.
Identity theft increased due to the pandemic
According to FTC data up to August 30, since the start of 2020, consumers have lost nearly $886 million due to fraud especially tied to Covid-19, as thieves have taken advantage of the pandemic to steal from online shoppers and in other venues.
During the epidemic, for instance, scams involving government benefits like unemployment insurance increased sharply. Under such cases, thieves applied for unemployment benefits in other people’s identities using personal information on consumers, much of it obtained in previous data breaches.
“That was a huge driver of a lot of the fraud” according to Eva Velasquez, the ITRC’s CEO, last year.
Since unemployment benefits are taxable, victims frequently learn about the fraud during tax season and must take action to make amends with the IRS as well as prevent any further consequences, such as impaired credit or the opening of financial accounts in their names.
“The explosion of identity crimes within government benefits and government services platforms has decreased in 2022, but it is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels,” Velasquez said. “We’re definitely seeing a much higher baseline in that area.”
The number of recorded occurrences of identity theft involving social media accounts increased 1,044% in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the ITRC.
According to Velasquez, these schemes typically entail criminals hijacking a user’s social media account using stolen credentials and exploiting the user’s followers to commit additional fraud.
A scammer might, for instance, use an Instagram user’s account to post about a fake charity, giving it the appearance of legitimacy and trust. As a result, the user’s followers might donate to the fake charity or accidentally reveal personal information that allows scammers to hack their account as well, according to Velasquez.
“It’s like this wildfire that started and all these sparks keep igniting new wildfires,” she said.
3 suggestions for ensuring consumer safety
According to Velasquez, here are some recommendations for customers to safeguard themselves from identity-related scams.
- Go directly to the source: If you receive an email, text message, or direct message on social media that seems urgent or official but you didn’t start contact, don’t respond, especially if they ask for your login credentials, your Social Security number, or information about your bank accounts. “That’s a huge red flag,” Velasquez said. “I don’t care if they said it’s the IRS, your friend, the Department of Homeland Security or your utility provider.” To confirm that they are the ones reaching out to you, log onto the app or website of that organization, give them a call at their main number, or get in touch with them any other way you would normally do so.
- Turn on two-step verification: Enable two-step verification (also known as multi-factor authentication) for an extra layer of account security in the event that a fraudster has gained your login information or other credentials. The user will be asked for a second identification verification after successfully logging in, such as a six-digit code sent to the registered mobile phone. Account holders must also keep their one-time passwords to themselves; enabling two-step authentication is not enough. By posing as someone you know, con artists can gain such codes and then access individuals’ accounts.
- Select a challenging password: By selecting a challenging and distinctive login password, customers can prevent account hacking. Although it might seem straightforward, people obviously don’t heed the advice: The most often leaked password on the dark web is 123456. Use a password manager or write down your passwords; pick a password that is 12 characters or longer, and avoid using the same one twice. For those who worry about losing that piece of paper, Velasquez said that this strategy isn’t nearly as risky as using basic passwords across all accounts.