Identity Theft on The Web – How To Protect Yourself

Manuela Lenz

You're at the airport, waiting for check-in to begin, and decide to pass the time by browsing Amazon. A few days later you receive a bill from the online merchant for several thousand dollars. But you didn't order anything, and the goods you ostensibly ordered are nowhere to be seen. What sounds like a scene from a movie happens to thousands of people every day.

Cyber gangsters gain access to their victims' information and assume their digital identity – with devastating consequences. In addition to the financial damage, the misuse of someone's identity can also have criminal consequences for the person affected. In this article, you'll learn what precautions you can take to protect yourself and what you can do if you've fallen to identity theft and.

What Is Identity Theft?

The term "Identity Theft" is an umbrella term for crimes for which the perpetrator pretends to be someone they're not. There are two different kinds:

  • The perpetrator carries out certain actions in the name of the victim
  • The perpetrator takes over the account of the victim in order to gain access to their personal data

The following table lists the most common types of identity theft:

Fake-ProfileNicknappingNew Online Accounts

The perpetrator pretends to be their victim on social media or other online platforms, sends messages in the victim's name, makes contacts with their friends and acquaintances or spreads false information or rumors.

The perpetrator doesn't even go through the trouble of creating a new account. Instead, they take over their victim's account. This way, they gain access to other personal information and slowly assume the rest of the victim's identity.

The perpetrator uses the victim's personal information to create new accounts on online shops or merchant website. This way, they can order goods on the internet, buy a phone plan or even open up a bank or credit card account in their victim's name.

Tip: A good way to find out if someone plays fast and loose with your data on the internet is setting up a Google Alert for your name. You'll automatically get an email every time there's a search hit on your name (only works for public websites). Signing up for Google is not required.

What Preventive Measures against Identity Theft Can I Take?

It's always better to be safe rather than sorry, but in the case of identity fraud, prevention isn't always that easy. The most radical preventive measure you can take is total "internet abstinence", but nowadays, that's very hard to do. Plus, identity theft isn't an "online problem" – it's been committed "offline" countless times in the past.


Protect Your Accounts and Passwords

Change your passwords regularly and use a unique password for each of your accounts. A secure password contains a combination of lower- and upper-case letter, at least one digit and a symbol.

When signing up for online shops or social media platforms, try using different e-mail addresses and passwords. This prevents criminals from gaining direct access the rest of your personal information. Use the Password Check to see if your password has been affected by a data leak in the past.

Always log out completely from your accounts when you're leaving the computer, especially if you've been surfing on a public computer, i.e. in a library or an internet café.


Encrypt your Data Communication

Always use a secure SSL connection or a VPN connection for your data communication when using public networks like those at a hotel or airport.

Encrypt your e-mail correspondence and your hard drive with the right crypto software (i.e. BitLocker). This way, your information is secure in case it gets stolen.


Stay Up-to-date

Install the latest version of the antivirus software of your choice on all devices you use for surfing the internet. Regularly search for malware.

Regularly update your operating system and the software on your computer to close potential security gaps before hackers can exploit them.


Be Skeptical

Never blindly accept friend requests from people you don't know on social media.

Be suspicious of e-mails that ask you for personal information such as your username or passwords. Internet gangsters use a certain tactic called phishing to obtain your personal information in order to gain access to your account.

Regularly check your bank account and credit card statements for suspicious activity. You should get immediately suspicious of unknown transactions even if the amounts are small.

Always use a nickname or a pseudonym when surfing the Web. Only use your real name if it's absolutely necessary.

What Should I Do If I'm Already A Victim of Identity Theft?

In most cases, people only notice that they've fallen victim to identity theft long after the fact and after the damage's been done. It's important to always keep a cool head and take the right protective steps.

The following checklist is a guide for victims of identity theft:

  1. Immediately contact the police and file a complaint. This is especially helpful in case a crime has been committed in your name. Refuse any warnings and demands for payment in order to not downgrade your credit score. In case of doubt, it's the vendor's responsibility to prove that a (purchase) contract has been concluded correctly. A good place to go to if you have questions, for example about the necessary formalities, is your local consumer center.
  2. Inform your social circle (family, friends, acquaintances or business partners) that someone has stolen your identity. This prevents them from falling for the same scam.
  3. Immediately report fake accounts (i.e. on social media) to the website's operator and request the deletion of any information and contents related to that account.
  4. Check your bank and credit card statements in case you need to cancel any unauthorized transfers. If possible, contact the recipient of the payment.
  5. Contact your credit rating agency and have them delete wrongful entries. Many provide information to victims of identity theft. You can register as one and prevent a wrongful negative credit rating.

In especially extreme cases of identity theft or if you're unsure about your legal situation, you should consult a lawyer specialized in this matter.

Author Manuela Lenz
Manuela Lenz is a trained IT specialist and worked for 20 years as a system administrator and project manager for large companies. Since 2017, the IT specialist has been a passionate IT-author. For she writes about project management, software and IT security.
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