Internet Takeover: Identity Theft Goes Digital

One of the most important things any individual can do to help protect their identity is to find out more about the different types of identity theft. More to the point, it’s important to understand what it is that cyber thieves might do with your information and your accounts

Internet takeover, one of the growing forms of identity theft that still doesn’t get a lot of attention, happens when someone accesses your existing online accounts. It might be because you shared your password with someone who proved to be untrustworthy, or it could be that your account was spoofed or hacked. However it came about, the end result is that someone can cause very serious damage to your reputation or online accounts.

The Identity Theft Resource Center has isolated a few of the different ways that respondents to the Identity Theft: The Aftermath 2016 survey were impacted by internet takeover.

“The types of online accounts that are taken over by thieves vary.  Most common include email accounts (11 percent), PayPal (10 percent), social media (9 percent), and online banking (8 percent).  But even health trackers (2 percent), online medical portals (5 percent), and gaming accounts (2 percent) were not immune.” (See Figure 14 of the report for more information.)

It can be frightening to find out that someone has taken over one or more of your accounts. Email is especially upsetting since it can provide access to other accounts; the thief simply clicks on “forgot my password” to a wide variety of online accounts, then resets the password using the link that was sent to the email account he now controls. Once that happens, the damage only gets worse.

“Nearly 1/5 of this year’s survey respondents reported significant repercussions when their online accounts were taken over (Figure 13).  Of those survey participants who indicated their accounts were taken over fraudulently, the consequences included job loss (24 percent) and reputational damage among friends (61 percent) and colleagues (31 percent).”

Internet takeover is a largely preventable form of identity theft. While there are certainly highly skilled, high-tech hackers who can use a variety of tools to steal access, for a lot of people that’s not how it happened.

  • Make sure you’re using a strong, unique password on all of your accounts. It’s tempting to use “password” to log into all of them, but then you’d be in the same password boat as literally hundreds of thousands of other people around the world. A strong password contains a long combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, along with numbers and symbols. A unique password, as the name implies, is only used on one account.
  • Log out of your social media accounts, especially on your mobile device. Yes, it’s a hassle to log in and out of your accounts every time you get up from your computer or access them from your mobile device, but it really is a strong way to keep thieves out. If you’re connecting to personal accounts from a work computer, someone could approach your workspace when you’re not present. If your smartphone is lost or stolen, the person who has it next has access to all of your accounts if you did not log out.
  • Beware of the “phishy” messages. Whether it’s on your desktop or your mobile device, beware of emails or messages that contain unexpected links, attachments, or instructions to click. It could be a quick route to installing a virus on your device, one that will root around in your memory and your network and steal your information, including usernames and passwords.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

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