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For years, security experts and advocates have warned consumers about suspicious websites, specifically ones that take your sensitive information or payments. The best course of action? To look for the HTTPS designation in the web address at the top of the screen and the little padlock icon, both of which indicate a site can be trusted.

Unfortunately, scammers continue to evolve their ways to continue victimizing the public through technology. A new report has found that about 49% of known phishing websites—websites that steal your information after tricking you into submitting it—contain a secure designation and a little green padlock. The “look for the lock” advice that was once a sound way to protect yourself is a little less reliable than before.

Just as scammers have evolved, now it’s up to consumers to make some changes in order to protect themselves from the latest threats:

1. Install a security suite that offers anti-phishing and website security

A basic antivirus isn’t enough to keep you safe anymore, and a number of well-known security software developers have incorporated a lot of extra features. Some can alert you to a fake website or known scammer before you compromise your information. Even better, many security programs offer a wide range of subscription prices—even free plans—so there’s something to meet every budget.

2. Establish a throwaway email address

Some sites want nothing more than your email address so they can sell it to spammers. Generate a free email address that is separate from your everyday, commonly used one. Then, whenever you’re visiting websites that want your email address, you have the option to trust the site with your contact information or use your backup email address.

3. Designate a payment card for internet purchases

The last thing you need is for a phishing website to steal your money, but it happens. By intentionally having an “internet only” credit card that is not connected to your bank account and that has a very low credit limit, you may have an easier time protecting yourself from someone who steals your information.

The most important thing you can do is to remember that what was once considered top-notch security advice can change as new technology and new developments occur. It’s not enough to develop a good habit and never deviate from it. Instead, you need to stay informed by following ongoing coverage of the latest scams and frauds.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.


Read next: “Secret Sisterhood” Online Gift Exchange Scam Alert

Identity theft is commonly associated with the damage it can do to victims’ finances, especially if the thief racked up tremendous debt. The countless new credit cards, the cars or houses, the new utilities turned on in apartments the victim didn’t rent can all lead to six-figure debt before they even know their identity was stolen.

There’s another serious threat to identity theft victims, one that may be just as harmful, and that’s the emotional toll this crime can take. This side effect can easily be overlooked at first by both the victim and their family members or friends. Worse, outsiders might even treat this side of identity theft as a non-issue, diminishing the feelings of loss, mistrust and even paranoia that victims can feel.

Each year, the Identity Theft Resource Center conducts an in-depth study of ID theft victims who’ve reached out to the organization during the year for help. The study is based on voluntary feedback to a comprehensive set of questions in order to get a better look at the trends and the lasting effects of this crime. The resulting ITRC Aftermath report is then made available to the public, including law enforcement, policymakers and other stakeholders, in order to provide accurate information from the victims’ standpoint.

Year after year, respondents to the ITRC Aftermath survey list some understandable emotional harm as a result of the crime. They’re often left feeling hopeless to resolve their cases and have a generally negative sentiment about their ability to recover. More than 85 percent have stated that they’ve felt worried, anger and frustration and another 83 percent are left feeling violated. Even worse, almost 70 percent of victims say they don’t think they can trust anyone and that they now fear for their safety. Almost as many victims reported that they feel powerless or helpless, while the majority of them are left feeling sad, depressed and betrayed.

Part of the hopelessness and paranoia may stem from all the ways that identity theft leaves its mark. More than 30 percent of the victims who responded said the crime caused them problems at work, either with their employers or with those they work with, while eight percent said it affected them at school with either the administration or other students. Some victims actually lost out on employment opportunities or even lost their jobs because someone had stolen their identity and used it in a way that came back on the victim. Some of the victims had their paychecks or their insurance benefits withheld due to the incidents, causing severe financial harm and the obvious distress that goes along with it. It’s easy to see how the financial turmoil can seem minor in comparison to the emotional upheaval. Money problems can be resolved, even if it takes time, but thinking that someone is using your good name to break the law is an endless kind of hurt. Knowing that your family members or coworkers think you’re a thief or an irresponsible consumer can break even the most solid bonds. It’s important that all consumers understand the aftermath of identity theft in order to be prepared, both financially and emotionally, should it happen to them or someone they care about.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Download now: The Aftermath®: The Non-Economic Impacts of Identity Theft