A burglar can only steal your things, but increasingly criminals target your personal information. That crime, identity theft, can have far greater repercussions. Once thieves have your information, scammers can monetize it in ways as limitless as the human imagination. Typically – even if the fraudster who harvested your information plans to use it directly – your information will also be sold on the so-called “dark web.” So what can you do to protect yourself?
What Is on the Dark Web?
The “open” part of the internet that you see every day is barely the tip of the iceberg. Most of the information online doesn’t show up in searches because it’s part of the so-called “deep web,” hidden behind paywalls or on tightly secured networks (your online banking or health records fall into this category). However, a small corner of the deep web – “dark web” or “dark net” – is sketchier. It’s occupied by those who want to operate in anonymity, from whistleblowers and political dissidents to – of course – criminals.
For scammers and fraud artists, the dark web isn’t just somewhere to hang out, it’s their marketplace for weapons, drugs and – most notably – your stolen information. So what gets sold there, exactly? The painful truth is that almost any piece of personal information can be monetized, from your actual account numbers or SSN right down to your username and password from any website.
Sadly, the dark web is forever. Once your information is sold, it can be repackaged and resold indefinitely. The best thing you can do is stay vigilant. Here’s how to protect yourself.
How to Find Out if Your Information is On the Dark Web
If you notice any of the telltale flags of identity theft — think getting collection calls for unknown debts, bills for accounts you didn’t open or purchases that you didn’t make — it is likely that your information is also on the dark web.
Additional solutions like basic credit monitoring may not give you detailed insights because these services simply review your accounts for suspicious activity. Criminals often keep withdrawal or charge amounts fairly low in order to stay under credit monitoring radar. Then there are credit freezes where you request that credit bureaus prevent any new account openings and high-level transactions on your credit profile. While this may help thwart fraud related to certain new accounts (i.e. obtaining new cars or credit cards), it does not protect existing accounts nor does it prevent identity crimes that make use of your personal information. Criminals will still be able to use stolen information to commit crimes like creating fake driver’s licenses or using your information to open lower-level accounts on e-commerce sites like Amazon.
For more robust protection, you need a monitoring service that provides continuous scanning of the dark web.
Our identity protection tools will allow you to set up alerts via your user dashboard and monitor key information such as email, bank and credit card accounts.Whatever method scammers used to get possession of your personal information, the moment they offer it for sale on the dark web, these alerts will be the best opportunity to detect and break the identity theft cycle.
If your monitoring service reports a “hit” on your personal information, don’t guess: Your information is probably being sold for nefarious purposes, and you need to take aggressive steps to protect yourself from fraud.
How Dark Web Monitoring Works
By design, the dark web is a difficult place to navigate effectively. Not only are the users and site owners anonymous, but the sites themselves are hard to find, popping up and disappearing with little or no notice. There are search engines specifically intended for the dark web, but they’re not always useful. Often, to find a given site, forum or individual user, you have to “know someone who knows someone” in order to get the correct URL.
Comprehensive dark web monitoring services such as Spokeo’s new identity protection tools continuously scan this shifting rat’s nest of dark web sites, keeping track of them as they close, open and relocate themselves. These monitoring services can even probe those aforementioned restricted and semi-restricted forums which require vetting or special invitation to access. Our service simultaneously tracks the activities of 16 million cyberthieves and malicious actors to better and more rapidly detect whatever information you specify: your email addresses, phone number, home address, credit cards, account information and more.
If your information shows up on one of the sites, forums or databases used by scammers, you’ll receive an alert. Knowing that your information is out there, “in the wild,” means you can act on salvaging it even before the scammers begin to leave traces of thievery on your credit history.
What to Do if Your Information Is on the Dark Web
There are a number of steps you should take as soon as you discover that you’re the victim of identity theft. If you haven’t already done so, pull a free credit report and check it carefully for signs that fraudsters might already be exploiting your information. File a report at the federal IdentityTheft.gov website, and with your local police. If scammers have filed a false tax return in your name, you’ll need to complete an Identity Theft Affidavit for the IRS as well.
If fraud has already occurred, contact your creditors’ fraud departments to challenge illicit use of your existing accounts. If the criminals used your information to open new accounts, you may need to file an identity theft affidavit for each of those accounts. Follow similar steps to clear up medical fraud with health care providers and insurers, utilities companies and anywhere else your identity may have been misused.
If your identity theft hasn’t yet resulted in any visible fraudulent activity, you have the luxury of taking preventive action. You can protect yourself against many forms of identity-based fraud by placing a credit freeze or extended fraud alert on your file. You’ll still be able to do all the things you normally do, but it will be harder — not impossible, unfortunately — for criminals to commit fraud in your name.
Spokeo Wants You to Keep Living Your Life
Identity theft is a genuine threat, and you may not have as much protection as you think from your bank and credit card vendors. That doesn’t mean you need to have a bunker mentality. It just means that you should take sensible, appropriate steps to limit your risks.
Dormant accounts are low-hanging fruit for criminals, so pare down your credit cards to the accounts you use and close the rest. An inexpensive P.O. box for your physical mail reduces the risk of scammers scooping bills and statements in search of useful information (switching to e-statements helps, too). Take advantage of Spokeo’s identity protection service via the user dashboard to activate dark web monitoring, and make sure your operating system, antivirus software and anti-malware software are up-to-date on all of your devices.
You’ll be prepared for digital life in the twenty-first century with appropriate precautions, and protective services from Spokeo These measures prevent many attacks, and lessen their severity if theft should still occur. Instead of living with fear, you can focus on simply living your life.