How the Spike in ID Theft Threatens Everyone and Can Wipe Out Investments

By Gaetano DiNardi, vice president of growth, Aura

It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you -- until it’s too late. Identity theft can take place in an instant, wreaking havoc on your life and your investments, some of which you might never be able to recover. And the threat of this happening has increased dramatically during the pandemic.

A survey finds that nearly half the country -- 47% of consumers -- experienced identity theft between 2019 and 2020. The Federal Trade Commission found a whopping 73% increase from 2019 to 2020. Consumers lost an estimated $56 billion.

While final figures are not yet in for 2021, the Identity Theft Research Center (ITRC) found incidents on the rise during the year, and predicted that losses would increase further.

Often, ID theft takes place through data breaches at businesses. In these cases, the hackers can get people's passwords for the site they hacked. Unfortunately, they can then have an easy time guessing the passwords these same people use for all sorts of other sites. According to one survey, 70% of adults use the same password for more than one thing. The breakdown of that figure is even more troubling: 24% said they use the same password for most things, and 21% said they use the same password for everything.

But even outside of data breaches, there are other ways bad actors can get ahold of your information. No matter how savvy you may think you are with technology, the risks abound. Take it from me. I learned this the hard way.

How I lost thousands

I was pickpocketed in Mexico. The thieves moved so quickly that they got my phone just after I put it into my pocket -- and before it moved into a locked state. (I had it set to lock after five minutes -- my first mistake.)

Even then, I thought, other levels of protection should have kept them from being able to access my information. I had SMS-based two-factor authentication, a backup recovery email address, and the Find My iPhone feature. 

But identity thieves know what they’re doing. They managed to bypass all these impediments. In less than three hours, they locked me out of my Gmail, Apple ID, and Yahoo accounts. They copied and downloaded my entire Google Drive. They attempted to wire funds out of my bank accounts.

Fortunately, the banks thwarted them. But the thieves managed to steal $12,000 that I had in a cryptocurrency account. They transferred Ethereum from my account to their own private hardware wallet. Once that happened, it was gone for good, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The losses are bigger than many realize

While anyone can experience identity theft, those with more money are more likely to be victims. Research “shows that cyber criminals stole the identities of 6.4% of the general public, but that number jumped to 8.1% for high net-worth individuals of $1 million or greater,” Silicon Valley Bank reported. “The affluent are 43% more likely to experience identity theft, as described in a joint study by Experian and the Department of Justice.”

It isn’t just the immediate losses that can drain you financially. Solving the problems that stem from identity theft can take huge sums of time -- which, for many people, is also money. At Aura, our survey found that it takes an average of 12 to 25 working days to resolve identity theft. That's a great deal of lost productivity.

The emotional fallout has consequences as well. I went through panic, fear, anxiety, shock and more -- a molotov cocktail of distress. All this can decrease people’s productivity at work. Our survey found that 29% of workers experience reduced interest in their jobs in the wake of identity theft.

Great defense is the best offense

Often people don’t even know that their identities have been stolen. At Aura, we provide a list of steps people can take to find out if this has happened to them, whether through data breaches, physical theft (as in my case), or phishing scams. We also explain what to do if you have been a victim of identity theft.

As Forbes recently noted, “Security is a moving target, and the creativity and new schemes that keep emerging are always changing.” Fighting back against cybercriminals takes vigilance. By being proactive, you can reduce the chances that it will happen to you. 

-Gaetano DiNardi is vice president of growth at Aura

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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