With the prevalence of fraudsters and cybercriminals pilfering personal information to perform illicit activities, identity theft has become a tremendous global concern. Unfortunately, that problem was compounded when the Covid-19 pandemic hit; so much so that President and CEO of the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center Eva Velasquez dubbed it "scamdemic."
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center's report, the the new scamdemic has led to an increase in phishing attacks, malicious campaigns and other types of scams. In fact, research has found that the number of identity theft complaints have more than doubled during the pandemic. Criminals are taking advantage of the fear and confusion surrounding current events in order to steal personal information, as well as financial data.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is a type of cybercrime aimed at stealing an individual’s personal identity information, such as their name, address, date of birth and Social Security number. Once criminals have obtained this information, they can use it to commit financial fraud or other types of crimes. Common forms of identity theft include credit card fraud, tax fraud, bank account takeover and medical identity theft.
The consequences of identity theft are severe and long-lasting. Victims may be financially impacted, as well as have their credit score damaged. In addition, victims may lose access to personal accounts or experience identity theft-related harassment. The process of fixing issues caused due to identity theft is often time-consuming and stressful. In 2021, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 5.88 million fraud reports. It showed a 19 percent increase from the year 2020. The report also found financial losses of around US$ 6.1 billion, indicating a sharp rise of more than 77 percent compared to 2020.
Rise of identity theft in this 'Scamdemic'
The 'Scamdemic' refers to the increase in scams and fraudulent activities in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the first few years of the Covid-19 pandemic, when people were concerned about the virus, their health, and financial well-being, they became socially isolated and suffered from a lack of companionship. Scammers capitalize on these socio-economic and psychological factors to perpetrate fraudulent schemes.
According to an AARP survey of adults 45 and older last year, "Either a scammer seeks out someone who seems alone or lonely or people who feel alone or lonely unknowingly give a scammer their time and ultimately personal information or money." Eva Velasquez also added, "These compromises impacted at least 422 million people. These numbers are only estimates because data breach notices are increasingly getting issued with less information. People are largely unable to protect themselves from the harmful effects of data compromises, fueling an epidemic—a 'scamdemic' of identity fraud committed with compromised or stolen information."
During the 'scamdemic', various individuals and professionals also became victims of romance, cryptocurrency, and imposter scams. In addition to individuals, scammers also targeted companies. The most extensive data breach of the year was at Twitter. Cybercriminals attacked 221 million users and stole some of their data. Companies like AT&T, Neopets, Beetle Eye, and Cash App were also among the targets. Check the stat report and the number of complaints reported in 2021 about fraud incidents in various niches.
Preventive measures against identity theft
Identity theft is common because it is easy for criminals to obtain personal information from unsuspecting individuals. To protect your identity, it is important to take proactive steps such as:
Shredding documents containing sensitive information before discarding them;
Regularly monitoring your credit reports and financial statements for any suspicious activity;
Changing passwords frequently and avoiding using the same password
Enable MFA where possible
Don't input your personal information into unknown websites, people or apps unless it is either necessary or you are absolutely sure your information will be secure.
The bottom line is to stay aware of the potential risks of identity theft, and take the necessary steps to protect yourself. It's important to be mindful of your own security and privacy in order to ensure that you don't become a victim. By taking preventive measures, you can reduce your chances of falling prey to identity theft.