I just finished making my four boys lunch. I’ll now clean the kitchen and the rest of the afternoon will be filled with puzzles, video games, singing, playing, and more fun.
Life is good. But, it wasn’t too long ago that I was in a very dark place.
I had no desire to wake up in the morning. I felt like my life was filled with far too much stress. My shoulders couldn’t take the weight much longer.
I was overwhelmed trying to cleanup the mess I was left with after my identity was stolen and more than $250,000 in credit was opened in my name.
Credit cards, lines of credit, motorcycles, and a car. I had no idea until I went to add another cell phone line to my plan and it was denied. I thought there had to be mistake. I had perfect credit. I had never missed a payment my entire life.
I quickly learned of what happened and the damage was extensive. To make a long story short, the exploit was tracked down to an email I opened and clicked on, thinking it was from my bank. It wasn’t. It was an email designed to look like it came from my bank.
It alerted me that I needed to change my password. The kicker? I had to enter my current password to “verify” it was me. I can’t believe I fell victim to this. I think this contributed more to my depression than the actual events that happened after it.
How could I fall for this?
When data is exposed via an exploit or hack it can put your personal information at risk. Often times hackers will gain access to data and sit on it, and wait to use it years down the road.
This was what happened in my situation. They didn’t apply for credit until 2 week after they compromised my account.
I’m not the only one. There have been many recent exploits. It’s quite scary how unsafe our personal information is out there.
I Felt So Defeated
My email account holds so much data; it’s essentially the keys to my life. The hacker was able to then access my social media, bank accounts, credit card accounts, etc.
I handed over my login details so they could get in and lock me out by changing the password, recovery, and contact info.
I wish I was better educated. I suggest everyone check out the FTC’s guide on spotting phishing scams. If I took ten minutes to read this before I would have avoided this mess.
I Was Careless and It Cost Me Dearly
With so much business and transactions happening online you want to make sure you only enter your information and banking information on websites that are secure.
I should have done more research when the email sent me to a website that I believed was my bank. It obviously wasn’t. I should have checked to see if the website address had “https” in front of it.
That means that all information submitted is encrypted. I really don’t know the technical lingo, but if you’d like to read the complete technical description, this Wikipedia entry is very helpful.
Through research I’ve learned that most hackers don’t spend the time to make sure their scam websites are secure as they would have to pay for that.
I Should Have Visited My Bank’s Website Directly
Having to change a password due to security reasons isn’t too shocking. It happens a lot. I have done it in the past. That is why it wasn’t too suspect.
But I should have visited my bank’s website directly. Or at the very least visited through a trusted linking partner, like Yelp, their Google Maps listing, Facebook, or Twitter. Connecting to a bank via a social media bio link is normal these days.
I Created a Layer of Security
I did two things that cost me nothing, yet keep my personal information safe now. I suggest you consider doing the same.
1. Create a “Promotions” Email Address
In an effort to reduce email spam, I created an email account that I only use when shopping online, joining a newsletter, or submitting it in exchange for a coupon code, etc.
Doing this directs all of those promotional emails to an account I only check here and there, and it prevents my main email address from being filled with spam. But, often times these companies will sell their data and you never know who will get their hands on it. This little trick can help protect your info and limit the number of phishing attempts you receive in your main email inbox.
2. Create a Secondary Mobile Number
With so many accounts like banks and social media using two-factor authentication now, it’s caused many cyber criminals to try to get their hands on your mobile number as well. For the same reasons I mentioned above for creating a second email address, I also suggest creating a second phone number.
I created a Google Voice number (it’s free) and use that when I submit my information online as well. Most online stores require a number, so I use that because if their data is hacked the criminals will have that number and not my real one that is tied to my important accounts.
You can forward this number to your main number as well, keeping you safe.
I Realized I Was a Victim
One of the ways I was able to crawl out of my state of depression was by researching and realizing this is not a rare happening. Millions of consumers have their identities stolen every year. It’s scary.
I hope nobody has to live through the stress I did while trying to clean up the mess I didn’t make.