By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Cyber criminals have many ways of obtaining your personal information, from skimming devices that steal your credit card data to malware that collects the personal information you enter online.
These scams can give hackers access to everything, including your bank account and your social security number. If you think fraudulent charges on your credit cards are the worst-case scenario, think again. Here are just a few of the terrifying things criminals can do with your information.
Refinance Your Own Home
A home is a major investment that you probably treat with extreme care. You worked hard to save a down payment and slogged through piles of paperwork to finally get those keys. If a hacker gets ahold of your social security number and steals your identity, he could be the one benefiting from all your efforts. With the right information, a savvy cybercriminal can assume your identity and take out a home equity loan on the house you are living in.
As if this kind of financial damage wasn’t horrifying enough, consider the fact that this criminal could ultimately cause you to lose your home as he makes off with the money. The higher your income, the greater your risk of suffering from identity theft. More than a fifth of all identity theft targets families with an income of $50,000 or higher.
File Tax Returns Using Your Identity
A hacker who has obtained enough information to assume your identity can begin to live a whole new life as you. The criminal’s own job history and financial past are likely too soiled to land him a good job. Your pristine history, on the other hand, could help him get a great gig. After working as you, the criminal may decide to file taxes under your name and make off with a nice refund.
Not only will you experience trouble when two tax returns are filed under your name, you could also suffer the effects of fraudulent information submitted to the IRS by the criminal. Should you apply for another job in the future, this false trail of employment may also follow you.
File for Bankruptcy
After wreaking havoc with your credit cards, a savvy cybercriminal may decide to minimize the damage and start over again with your identity by simply filing for bankruptcy. This discharges the debt, but seriously damages your credit score. Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for ten years and damages your chances of getting a home loan, car loan, job, apartment, and credit cards.
Serve Time in Jail with Your Identity
If the hacker who stole your information decides to try breaking some more laws, he could end up in jail under your identity. Fingerprints, photos, and a criminal record will all go down under your name and social security number. A minor traffic stop could turn into a nightmare if the criminal who assumed your identity is wanted. You could end up unravelling the confusion from a jail cell while the hacker runs free.
Collect Your Government Benefits
If you receive government benefits of any kind, a thief who has assumed your identity can get access to them. If your welfare or disability suddenly stops showing up, the cause could be an Internet savvy hacker who has diverted your funds to his own account.
Get a House, Apartment, or Car
Using your credit cards, identity, and personal information, a hacker can fill out a rental application for a house or apartment. If you have a clean rental history and decent income, the criminal will find it relatively easy to get a new home under your name. Renting requires far less paperwork than actually buying a home, so this con is more common.
Once the hacker has a cozy new place, however, he has little to no incentive to make good on the rental payments. After all, it’s your identity that will suffer the damage when he doesn’t pay rent, wrecks the property, and takes off.
Your financial and personal information are all a cybercriminal will need to go out and rent a new car, as well. If he keeps up with the payments, you may not even realize there’s another vehicle under your name unless you regularly check your credit report. If the criminal decides not to pay, however, you’ll learn about the fraud quickly enough because the lender will come after you for the money he’s owed.
Open and Max Out Credit Cards
Your existing credit cards aren’t the only thing at risk when a hacker gets access to your information. If you think you’re safe just because you’re monitoring the charges on your existing cards, you’re operating under a dangerously false assumption. While some hackers will start with your credit cards, those who have enough information can go far beyond this trick.
With your personal information in hand, cyber criminals can get brand new credit cards under your name and max them out in a matter of days or even hours. Once you realize the fraud has taken place, the criminal is long gone with the goods.
Empty Your Bank Account
Credit cards are the threat most people think of when they consider their information being stolen. While this is frightening, most credit card companies offer some type of fraud protection that will keep you safe, if you act quickly. Getting your money back from a bank is more difficult. Approximately 35% of identity fraud involves bank accounts. If a hacker gets access to your bank account, he can clean you out and leave you with nothing to pay your bills or buy groceries until you’ve sorted out the mess left behind.
Hackers are an ever-present danger. You must stay vigilant about protecting your information and always keep on the lookout for suspicious activity. If you don’t keep an eye on your credit report and financial statements, you’re giving criminals a wide open door to run amok with your information. Stay alert so you can pinpoint suspicious activity as early as possible.