A lot of the phishing emails and calls people receive are made with the sole purpose of obtaining information from you in order to steal your identity.
What's the difference between identity theft, and identity fraud?
Identity theft is the process of your details and personal information being stolen. This could include your name, date of birth or current and previous addresses. You may not even know that identity theft has taken place, as this information can be obtained through malicious software on your computer, a convincing looking form/link or even your Facebook page.
Your information can then be sold or used to commit identity fraud, where an individual uses this information to assume your identity. This can be through taking out loans in your name, opening bank accounts or even stealing your photos to create fake social media or dating profiles.
But they aren't really me, so what's the problem?
The problem is that the banks, loan companies and potential online dates don't know that this individual has stolen your identity. This means that for all intents and purposes this person is you - because anything that they do will be attributed to you.
Therefore you could suffer anything from a crippling loss of reputation to being the subject of a criminal investigation. It's also very difficult and time consuming to prove your innocence, meaning your credit score could be affected and you could get bills and letters from debt collectors.
How can I protect myself?
Make sure that you know exactly how much of your information (and your family's information) is available online. Check your social media privacy settings and regularly view how your profile appears to a stranger and a friend. If you wouldn't tell a stranger over the phone, it shouldn't be public.
Also ensure that you destroy any paper copies of bank statements or utility bills properly. This is important because one of the main pieces of documentation you need to open a bank account or take out a loan is proof of your address.
Be wary of any emails or phone calls requesting bank information or personal information, even if they look or sound like they are from a service you subscribe to. Check out our guide for spotting phishing emails here.
For more on hacking and phishing, read our post on a targeted hacking attack by professional hackers here.