A VPN, or virtual private network, is an essential tool for online privacy and security. It helps keep …
Imagine getting a letter in the mail from a bank, congratulating you on your new car loan. You also get a $2,000 bill for your first month’s payment. You look out of the window at your driveway. There’s no fancy Range Rover. You’d never spend over $100,000 on a car. At yet, here you are, bill in hand, wondering why this bank says you did.
This is exactly what happened to Mola Johnson a few months back. Johnson said she received the letter from Scotiabank that included signed paperwork on her new loan. Johnson had never even been to the Canadian province where the luxury Range Rover was purchased.
It was at this point that she realized her identity had been stolen.
“When I received the report from Equifax, I noted that there is an unusual transaction – $106,000 – which I was not aware of,” she told Global News.
She went to the local police station to file a police report. The police are yet to determine how her personal information was stolen, used to take out a loan, and then to purchase a luxury SUV at the dealership.
Although Johnson will not be held at fault for the purchase, the bank has yet to clear her name from the fraudulent purchase. Only after Johnson went public with her story, she says, did a bank representative make contact and assure her that nothing will happen to her credit. She was also offered additional account protection for the next five years.
“I don’t know exactly where I stand. I just know that I can’t get anything right now, even in an emergency situation, because [this situation] is giving me a bad credit since I’m not paying the money that needs to be paid,” she said.
“Every time I see a different piece of mail coming to say that you owe this much money… it’s actually giving me anxiety.”
It could happen to you…
Johnson’s case is not rare. In fact, there are close to 17 million victims of identity theft in the U.S. each year, making it the number one consumer crime in the country. In total, nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft, according to a 2018 online survey by The Harris Poll, and a study by Javelin Strategy & Research firm suggests that identity theft crimes are on the rise.
So how did Johnson get her identity stolen? We don’t know for sure, but it’s likely a combination of things.
Firstly, phishing emails. 200 million phishing emails, designed to look like a real company you trust so you hand over your personal information, are sent out every day. All it takes is one click on a spammy link and you could unknowingly be handing details like your Social Security Number, date of birth, email, password, and other information to criminals.
Identity thieves also scour your social media profiles looking for any personal information — how many kids you have, their names, birthdates, where you went to college, your maiden name, and so on. Many people have publicly viewable social accounts and don’t think twice about posting this kind of information.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much for a criminal to build a pretty in-depth profile that can be used to steal your identity — and, in Johnson’s case, buy a $100,000 Ranger Rover.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
- Place a flag or fraud alert at financial institutions so you are alerted when someone tries to use your credit
- Shred personal documents before you throw them in the trash
- Be aware of phishing emails and never click on random links
- Get a copy of your credit history and check it regularly
- Turn on two-factor authentication on your devices
- Invest in identity theft prevention and detection
As cliche as it sounds, nowadays, you need to take extra measures to secure your identity online. After hearing Johnson’s story, it’s worth taking a few minutes to secure your accounts rather than going through the pain of becoming the next victim of an identity theft crime.
Identity theft is now the #1 consumer crime in the U.S. To protect yourself, check out Hotspot Shield with ReliaShield, a new bundle that delivers 360-degree protection: the privacy and security of VPN protection when you’re online, and comprehensive monitoring when you’re not.