Thieves have moved from robbery and burglaries in the real world into online world. Over the last several years, the FBI reports crimes like property crimes, burglaries, and robberies have deceased, but identity theft has increased by 16% in 2016 compared to just 2015.

While identity theft isn’t as frightening as physical crimes, having your identity stolen is still an invasive crime. It can leave you feeling vulnerable and violated. Especially when the identity theft goes undetected for some time.

One of the most common types of identity crime is new account fraud. In new account fraud, a criminal who purchased your information on the deep web applies for and receives a loan in your name. According to the Javelin survey, new account fraud doubled from 2014 to 2015.

What information makes identity theft possible?

Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is the official term for information, in both the public and private domain, that describes and identifies you, especially in business transactions.

The following are examples of PII:

  • Full legal name
  • Home address
  • E-mail address(es)
  • Passport number
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Driver’s license number
  • Medical records
  • Birthplace
  • Username and password combinations
  • Military credentials
  • Insurance information
  • Credit card numbers
  • Bank account information

How quickly can PII be used?

In 2017, the FTC performed an experiment to see how quickly criminals could use available PII. The FTC generated fictitious PII and posted it on a website on the deep web.

The outcome was startling: the criminals took only nine minutes to attempt to use the information. Overall, more than 1,200 attempts were made to access the e-mail, payment, and credit card accounts during the experiment.

This experiment shows PII is a valuable commodity for thieves. If they are able to get their hands on it, they will be sure to use it.

What can I do if I’m compromised?

If you suspect your information has been compromised or received an alert from us telling you it has been, you should take action immediately to protect yourself.

  • If you suspect new account fraud, alert the holder of the debt (such as the bank issuing the loan).
  • Report the theft to the credit bureaus and have them place a fraud alert on your credit file.
  • If you are certain you have been compromised (e.g., you receive a WatchdogID notification), ask the credit bureaus to lock or freeze your credit report.
  • Alert your bank to the theft.
  • Begin checking for charges you don’t recognize on your bank and credit card statements.
  • Consult local law enforcement to see if filing an incident report is necessary. (If the theft is apparent, you definitely need to file a report.)

What can I do before I’m compromised?

Your PII is valuable to you because, in essence, it is you. You can take steps now to protect yourself and your PII from identity thieves.

  • If available, sign up for fraud alerts from your bank or credit card company.
  • Use tools like Mint to aggregate and monitor your transactions.
  • Use credit report monitoring tools like Credit Karma to monitor your credit reports.
  • Have WatchdogID constantly monitor for your PII on places like the dark web.