How to protect yourself

In the digital era, identity theft (also known as identity fraud or identity misuse) is becoming an increasingly significant problem. By the time you realise your identity has been stolen, the damage has usually already been done. And rectifying the problem involves a lot of effort, stress and perseverance. So what do you need to know? What risk does identity theft pose and what can you do if it does happen to you?

It is difficult to know the frequency at which identities – personal data – is stolen online. We gained some insight into just how prevalent this is, however, with the security report published by Swisscom in April 2017. The Cybersecurity Report addresses topics such as data theft – the basis on which strangers’ identities can be stolen.


Swiss user data is being stolen by the millions

To find out how at risk Internet users in Switzerland are with regard to data theft, the security experts at Swisscom analysed the freely available data of the seven largest data thefts from 2016. The result: Around 890 million user accounts were exposed during these incidents.


Identity theft – what is it really?

Identity theft is the misuse of personal data by third parties. Identity thieves are able to cause all kinds of damage with just your first and last name, your address and date of birth. If they succeed in acquiring data such as e-mail addresses or passwords, this makes users even more vulnerable.


Financial loss

To give just a couple of examples, identity thieves can order goods online or even enter into contracts for mobile devices, for example – with all costs charged to the victim. And if criminals get their hands on victims’ banking information, it is even possible for them to misuse their victims’ credit cards or to drain their accounts completely.


Defamation online

Cyberbullying is another frequent result of identity theft. Thieves use victims’ personal data to create a fake profile on platforms such as Facebook, which they use to make political or sexual statements, for example.


Using stolen data to transfer liability by fraudulent means

Identity thieves can even set up fake websites under the victim’s name and use these to conduct business. To do so, they’ll often use photos of the victim, which are freely available to them online – in social networks or using an image search. In the event of any criminal acts, the police will initially approach the person under whose name the website has been created, who is liable as the alleged owner of the website.


Methods of identity theft

Identity thieves are smart, as you can see from this trick: When looking for an apartment, you need to act fast if you want to be successful. Fraudsters take advantage of this by placing fake ads for attractive, reasonably priced apartments online. Anyone interested is asked to transfer an advance payment and/or e-mail a copy of their personal ID. Many people fall for this trick because they want to secure the offer – with the result that both money and personal data fall into the fraudsters’ hands.


Even more tricks used by identity thieves

Identities can be stolen in a huge number of ways: through phishing (link to other blog entry), using malicious software such as trojans, by physically breaking in to someone's apartment, or by simply rifling through household rubbish. It is also not uncommon for businesses to fall victim to identity thieves, who are able to carry off large amounts of customer data as a result.


Signs pointing towards identity misuse

Signs that you may have become a victim of identity misuse include unaccountable withdrawals from your bank account, unauthorised claims for payment through the post, or passwords for user accounts suddenly no longer being accepted. In this case: Don’t hang around – take action straight away! 


What should you do in the event of identity theft?

  • Report the matter to the police.
  • Inform any banks and service providers that you use online, as well as your friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues.
  • Block all of your user accounts.
  • Check your computer for malware before changing all of your passwords – even for services that have not been compromised.
  • Keep a close eye on your bank statements.
  • If reminders for goods that you never bought land in your mailbox, we would recommend calling in a lawyer.


Stay up to date

The list of tricks used by identity thieves is long – and getting longer all the time. We would recommend keeping yourself up to date on new methods and regularly visiting the relevant information pages of police or consumer protectors. In Switzerland, the Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Assurance MELANI is a good first port of call.



Download the identity theft checklist and you’ll have all the information you could need on measures to protect yourself from identity theft at a glance.