Synthetic Identity Theft: How to Avoid It

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If someone asked you what the first synthetic fiber invented was, would you say nylon or rayon? Well, either answer would be wrong, because the first synthetic fiber was actually glass, invented in the late 1880s. And who could forget when nylon came on the market in October of 1939? Women were ecstatic! And what about polyester that came on the market in the 1950s?  But how are synthetic fibers created? They’re made from a combination of chemicals, polymers made in a laboratory, to be accurate, and also include coal, petrochemicals and other natural materials that are combined and extruded into artificial fibers. It’s the combining of different existing and new chemicals that give us the new synthetic ones.

While combining different chemicals and materials creates synthetic fibers, combining different data from real and made-up sources is how synthetic identity is created. It’s become the fastest-growing form of identity theft in the country today, surpassing regular identity theft, medical identity theft and financial identity theft. Because synthetic identity theft combines made-up data like names with real data like a child’s social security number, it’s almost impossible to trace. It gives the cybercriminal an advantage that he or she never had before, and it’s costing billions of dollars each year.

Synthetic Identity Theft: Danger Ahead

So, why is synthetic identity theft so dangerous? According to the Federal Reserve, its average cost to victims of $15,000. Sadly, children are the biggest victims, because the Social Security numbers of children are fifty times more likely to be stolen than an adult’s. In fact, over one million Social Security numbers were stolen from children last year. The problem is, the child probably won’t know about the theft until they reach the age of 18, when they start college, look for employment or try to purchase a vehicle. By then a lot of damage has been done, and it will take a lot of time and money to clear up the mess that was created.

Another population that’s targeted by cybercrooks is the elderly, often because they don’t review bank statements or credit bureau reports. They are also reluctant to report any type of problem with their finances out of embarrassment or fear of living on their own. This gives the cybercriminals a lot of time to deplete the victim’s bank accounts before a trusted relative or neighbor discovers what’s been going on.

Cybersecurity experts also tell us that there are multiple types of synthetic identity theft. For example, there’s identity fabrication – where the identity of a person is completely made up of phony data. There is absolutely no real personally identifiable information in that type of synthetic identity. Another type of synthetic identity theft is identity manipulation, where the cybercrook takes real data from an individual and manipulates it to create a completely new identity.

Finally, there’s identity compilation, where the cybercrook takes data from a real person and combines it with fake data – creating a new identity that isn’t real. The cybercook can use this compiled identity to commit cybercrimes while posing as a real person. 

The fact is, no matter what way is used, that person doesn’t exist.

Don’t Become the Next Victim

Avoiding being part of synthetic identity theft should be everyone’s goal. The first step is recognizing where cybercriminals get the data they use to create a synthetic identity, particularly when doing identity compilation. You may be surprised to learn that there is a lot of unauthorized persoanl data about you that is available for purchase on people-search sites. Cybercriminals go to these sites, purchase the information and then combine it with fake data to create a synthetic identity, which is used to commit fraud. So your best approach is to go to each site and delete your information and opt out.

To protect your data, create strong passwords. That means a password that is 12 characters long, and includes letters, numbers and symbols. Plus, you should have a unique and strong password for each one of your accounts. That could become a full-time job, so experts recommend getting password management software like Dashlane, eWallet and BitWarden.  The software will generate and manage all of your passwords for you, helping to keep hackers out of your data. 

Follow the recommended best practices for online security. In addition to strong passwords, be sure you start using two-factor authentication. While it will take a little extra time and effort on your part to log into your accounts, it will absolutely help to keep cybercrooks out. Review all of your social media posts, and delete any personal information that would help a cybercriminal take your data to create a synthetic identity. Also, never reveal your Social Security number to anyone, and never keep a paper Social Security card in your wallet or purse. 

Always review your bank statements and credit reports, to make sure there’s no suspicious activity occurring that you don’t recognize. You can view your credit bureau report online for free, and if you find any issues notify one of the top credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax or Transunion. Whomever you notify will notify the other two credit bureaus. If a problem exists, put a credit freeze on your account.