The short answer to this question would be a resounding “yes”. Your identity can be stolen in many different ways, both on and offline. According to 2020 statistics by the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS), identity fraud had increased by 337% as opposed to 2019.

What are some of the ways your identity can be stolen online?

Online identity theft can range from phishing attacks to someone simply collecting your information from your online profiles. Usually, a hacker will impersonate an official organisation to get you to confirm your details. For example, a victim may receive a seemingly legitimate email from their bank stating that their account has been breached. The email will ask the victim to confirm their credit card information and contain a link to a form that looks real. Once the victim has input their details into the field, the hacker collects that information and uses it to open accounts in the victim’s name, racking up unpayable debt.

Spyware can also be used to collect your information. Spyware or malware can be encountered by downloading files or software from unsecure sources, opening attachments in emails, or clicking on pop up ads on websites or simply just visiting illegitimate and unsecure websites. Spyware runs in the background and, without your knowledge, records your browsing activity and collects information you may input into legitimate sites. Spyware doesn’t only collect the data you actively input, it can also access any sensitive data you may have stored on your device, and can transmit this data to other cybercriminals, often resulting in identity or financial fraud.

How can we avoid falling victim to online identity theft?

It’s extremely important to monitor all of your online accounts and ensure that all information is correct. When you find something that doesn’t line up correctly, deal with that as soon as you can. It is highly advised to make use of anti-virus software on your computer to avoid spyware and malware attacks that can expose your personal information to cybercriminals online. Anti-virus software searches all the nooks and crannies in your PC where spyware or malware could be hiding and gets rid of them for you, in turn ramping up the performance of your device.  

When you are in public, be very wary of free Wi-Fi as it is often found that public Wi-Fi is vulnerable to hackers and other threats, unless it is password protected. Speaking of passwords, ensure that all the passwords on your online accounts are strong and unique. This way, if one account is breached, your other accounts will remain safe as they do not all use the same password.

When you browse online, make sure to visit secure websites containing an “https” domain, rather than an “http”, as this means the website is up to date with their security certificates and is generally safer than an “http” website.

Whatever you do, always be sure to only open emails from trusted senders. Always check the address that the email is coming from and never click on any links or attachments you are unsure about. Remember to immediately delete any emails that you may consider to be spam. Luckily, most email providers now have automated spam detection, meaning they will automatically detect whether an email is spam and send it to the “spam” folder, where it will be kept for around 30 days and then deleted permanently.

Remember, online identity theft can happen to anyone, so be sure to take the necessary precautions to minimise your personal risk.