When are You More Vulnerable to Identity Theft?By its very nature, identity theft is an opportunistic crime. Identity thieves take advantage of specific circumstances where your personal information is more exposed than it otherwise would be. While a truly determined fraudster can access your information at any time using tools like phishing scams and the dark web, more often than not, there will be points in your life where the opportunities for identity theft increase as a result of your circumstances. In this post, we’ll be covering the whens and whys of identity theft that happens surrounding major life events or circumstances. Keep reading to learn about these vulnerable points in your life and how you can appropriately handle the identity theft risks they present.

The nuances of identity theft

Identity theft is pretty complicated. Although people tend to speak about it as a single crime, all instances of identity theft aren’t the same. Different motivating factors, as well as the different types of information that thieves pursue, can make it difficult to keep up with all of the ways identity thieves could disrupt your life. We’ve already covered many of the types of identity theft you might encounter, as well as how these occur. However, we haven’t very often discussed when identity theft is most likely to occur. With some types of identity theft, it’s more obvious — tax identity theft is most likely to happen during tax season, for example. Generally, though, it might not always be so obvious. Together with the knowledge about the various types of identity theft, knowing when identity theft is most likely to occur could be helpful in building plans to protect your identity.

Circumstances and life events that make you vulnerable to identity theft

Identity theft can happen at any time, but below is the list of life circumstances that substantially increase your risk of identity theft as well as what you can do to make yourself less vulnerable from them.

  • Holidays, trips and vacations. Those holiday getaways, especially those taken at the end of the year, are a prime time for identity theft. That’s because the holiday season is the spending season, which means big packages are not only sitting in your living room, luggage or other locations, but they’re also being shipped to different family members throughout the world. As such, burglars and mail thieves are busy this time of the year. Alternatively, identity theft could happen due to pickpocketing or card skimming while you’re traveling. To prevent trouble on the home front, you should have your mail held before going on extended trips so that an overflowing mailbox and unattended packages don’t become invitations to would-be thieves. It might also be worth investing in a house sitter or asking a neighbor to check up on your house. Keeping your mailbox and even your car clutter-free is also something you should consider if you’re staying home or traveling. When you’re away from home, keep a good eye on your belongings and don’t leave items like your wallet simply lying around unsupervised (e.g., don’t leave something valuable in your hotel room). Be careful of where you use your card and avoid places like sketchy ATMs and shops in areas with limited foot traffic.
  • Moving or making new acquaintances. Any life change that has you uprooting yourself, either physically or socially, introduces new variables in your life that you’ll want to be aware of. The act of moving introduces a number of identity theft risks, but getting settled into your new neighborhood isn’t risk-free either. A new neighbor or new associates in your life means new individuals whose intentions you should vet before getting too attached and deciding to add them on social media or into your home. You’ll also want to keep abreast of what’s happening in your neighborhood. If conditions change, like crime increases or old neighbors move, you should keep these changes in the back of your mind as you’re working to protect yourself from identity theft.
  • Applying to or attending school. We talked about college identity theft affecting young adults who are living on their own for the first time, but the honest truth is that anyone who decides to pursue higher education is at risk for identity theft. This includes older adults going to college, grad school or enrolling in certification and extension programs. The biggest threats faced by students are schemes like scholarship and student loan scams as well as the extensive paper trail created by applying for school and being a registered student. You’ll need to be cautious about the types of financial support that you apply for. Stick to applying for scholarships and loans from reputable sources like ones recommended by your program, and don’t respond to unsolicited loan or scholarship offers.
  • Change in employment status. Both being hired and being fired increase your risk of experiencing identity theft, as both result in an increased paper trail. Individuals between jobs should be especially careful, as job application scams are a genuine danger to those who are desperate to find work. These scams can result in you losing time, money and your identity. That’s why you should stick to searching for jobs using reputable sites and services. Also, use common sense when applying for jobs – overly cushy work-from home gigs or applications requiring you to pay fees are all likely scams. For those who’ve applied for unemployment, it might make sense to review your credit reports given that employers might run credit checks alongside background checks. You can do this by either placing a fraud alert on each of your credit reports or freezing your credit during the application process — just remember to unlock your credit reports.
  • Buying or selling property. If you’re buying or selling property, these are circumstances in which you’re more vulnerable to identity theft, as your information is usually shared with your realtor who then provides your information to others, like the title company. In rare cases, realtors are targeted by identity thieves so that their clients can be scammed. Conversely, some buyers may publicize their information to a lot of sources making their information easily available. In cases like these, avoiding sharing is almost impossible, as you must depend on the people you work with to protect your information, but you can monitor your credit and do your due diligence when vetting realtors or potential buyers or sellers. Verify with your state’s regulatory body that your realtor is licensed through and confirm that the realtor has not had any complaints made against them. Buyers can use public records to view the history of the home they’re purchasing, like its owners and previous listing prices. Sellers and buyers can also use public record information to verify the identities of one another.
  • Changes in family life. Marriage, divorce, pregnancy and childbirth are all significant moments in life, but they’re also important to identity thieves too, as they’re times in your life when you’re distracted and producing a large paper trail. Keep this in mind as you go through these personal experiences and understand that while you’ll be required to provide your information to a lot of people — as such, you’ll want to ask questions before volunteering any information.
  • Death. Dying offers no refuge from identity theft. In fact, dead persons’ identities are more valuable because of how long they can be abused without consequence. Before you die, make sure your loved ones understand that they need to reach out to the credit bureaus, your bank(s) and to your lenders to verify what information is needed to notify these parties that you’re deceased. They should also understand that your digital footprint should be managed or deleted.

Can identity theft protection services help?

Identity theft protection services can help you keep tabs on where your information is and who has access to it. That’s because these services scan the Internet black market and public records and alert you if any of your information is spotted. Our top-rated identity theft protection services also monitor your credit reports and alert you of new accounts or changes made to your reports. What’s more, a number of these services provide new users with free trials, meaning you can test the service before making a financial commitment.

If you’d rather not sign up for an identity theft protection service, you can opt to protect your identity on your own, although you should know it will be challenging and require due diligence.

Although you can’t prevent identity theft, there are things you can do to make yourself less vulnerable. For more tips on fighting identity theft, keep reading our identity theft protection blog.