Attempting to impersonate someone is an activity as old as humanity, and has been used to great comedic effect by comedians and jesters throughout the ages.
Sadly, the crime of identity theft (in which a criminal uses someone’s identity details for fraudulent purposes) is very much not a joke. Not only because it can destroy someone’s finances and credit, but can even lead to false arrests and other life-altering consequences for the person whose identity is being abused.
Even less funny than that, is that the number of these crimes is currently at an all-time high. According to identitytheft.org1 the number of identity theft incidents are up 70% compared to 2020, with the yearly number of reported identity theft incidents clocking in at 5.7 million in 2021 for the US alone.
And along with the number of incidents, the median cost of these identity theft incidents is also on the rise, reaching an estimated $500 USD per incident based on the 2021 data2. This is in direct correlation with the ever-increasing number of devices and services people use in their daily lives, and the strong shift to conducting life online (from work, shopping, and entertainment), which have all served to increase exposure to this type of crime.
All of this means that, on average, someone’s identity is stolen every 22 seconds in the US, and 33% of Americans will become a victim of identity theft at some point in their lives3. In fact, 1 in 4 have been victimized by identity theft before they turn 184. In all, this is most certainly not a laughing matter, especially when you consider that this type of crime costs the US economy 5.8 billion USD per year5.
Hopefully, after hearing the above numbers, you’re wondering what can be done to stop this. Or, at the very least, what you can do to prevent yourself and your family from becoming identity theft victims.
The answer to that question is both simple and very hard; it starts with implementing all the common security advice you’ve probably heard thousands of times before: Use strong passwords, do not reuse credentials, enable multi-factor authentication, do not post personal data on social media, monitor your credit cards, bank accounts, and credit history for anything out of the ordinary, etc.
But the problem with this is that securing your identity is not just solely your responsibility. What makes it hard is that every company, government body, institution, etc. that holds your information is also participating in this game of staying ahead of the identity thieves. And, when we remember that data loss incidents by those entities have been on a steady rise for years with no signs of stopping, it’s an almost statistical certainty that someone, somewhere, will expose your data at some point.
As a result, all too often people that follow the commonly espoused advice about account and identity security to the letter still become a victim of identity theft, through no fault of their own.
Introducing identity theft monitoring
Which brings us to the core topic of this article; Microsoft is excited to announce that identity theft monitoring is available today to Microsoft 365 subscribers (for both Personal and Family subscription plans) in the United States.
This solution addresses one of the biggest challenges in preventing identity theft: visibility. We’ve partnered with Experian® to leverage their powerful identity monitoring technology to detect, track, and alert you whenever we find any identifying information on the internet, the dark web, and less common sources like file sharing, chat rooms, and many other places.
By showing exactly what details are compromised and/or publicly available, Microsoft empowers you to take control of your personal identity security and make informed decisions. Once you know what’s out there, you can take action by resetting passwords for compromised services, enabling multi-factor authentication for services that support it, placing a credit freeze to avoid malicious actors affecting your credit, contacting your bank or card provider to report potential fraud on your account, etc.
Identity theft monitoring can currently track and report up to 64 different types of identity details per breach, from usernames and passwords to credit card numbers and even Social Security numbers. And it does so intelligently; whenever a match is found on any monitored information, it will also alert you to any of your other personal information that was found in that same breach.
For example, when identity theft monitoring is tracking your email address, it will report all associated data it finds in a breach where your email was found. So, if you had a credit card on file with the breached company or service, it will not just report that it found your email, but also the credit card that was registered on your account there. Even if you never added your credit card number to your monitored identity details!
And, if the cause of the breach is known, identity theft monitoring will even tell you what happened to cause your data to be lost.
But knowing your identity has been compromised is only half the battle. While most people we surveyed were perfectly familiar with how to reset a password, many indicated that they wouldn’t know where to start if more sensitive information like their Social Security Number or driver’s license got exposed. Furthermore, many shared their struggles with looking up instructions online due to conflicting information and insufficient clarification of nuances like the difference between placing a credit freeze and a credit lock.
Identity theft monitoring helps answer these questions with contextual recommendations for each individual breach, as well as in-depth guides on how to perform more complex tasks. And, because we want to empower you to make informed decisions about your identity security, it will also inform you of the risks associated with each identity type. This way you can take the action that works best for your situation and risk tolerance.
That’s all well and good, but what if you need further help? Or if someone is actively trying to take over your identity, right now? For those cases Defender includes access to a 24/7 support team of restoration specialists that can guide you through the appropriate next steps for any situation regarding your identity and can even take action for you if time is of the essence.
This means, regardless of the situation, you are never left wondering what the appropriate next steps to resolving your identity breach are or having to fend for yourself in trying to get everything sorted.
This extends to the damages caused by identity theft too. Identity theft monitoring subscribers are insured for the costs associated with restoring their identity (document fees, legal fees, etc.) up to $1M USD and stolen funds caused by the identity theft up to $100K USD6.
So even if the worst should happen, Defender users who have identity theft monitoring enabled can rest (a little bit) easier, knowing that they have access to insurance that will help them in recovering their identities and the associated fallout.
And, as mentioned in the beginning, identity theft monitoring extends to family members in your Microsoft 365 family. These features and benefits can be set up and managed by the family organizer for all members of the family7. Once set up, family organizers will then receive alerts for all managed family members8 through the Defender app on any device they’re signed in on, as well as via email. This helps the organizer stay on top of not just their own identity security, but their families' as well.
And of course, all of that can be easily managed from the central dashboard provided by the Defender app.
To get started with identity theft monitoring today, visit https://mydefender.microsoft.com, sign-in with the personal Microsoft account (@gmail, @outlook, etc.) linked to your Microsoft 365 subscription, find the identity theft monitoring card on the dashboard, and select “Get started.” You can also download the app from the Microsoft, Google, and Apple app stores or download the MacOS app here (if you haven’t already)!
For more details and answers to frequently asked questions, visit: Getting started with identity theft monitoring in Microsoft Defender
1,2,3,5. 2022 Identity Theft Facts and Statistics - https://identitytheft.org/statistics/
4. Experian® Identity theft statistics https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/identity-theft-statistics/
6. The identity theft insurance is underwritten and administered by American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida, an Assurant company. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions. Review the Summary of Benefits.
7. All family members need an active Microsoft 365 subscription, and any user over the age of 13 need to explicitly consent to being monitored and managed by the family organizer.
8. Requires alert sharing to be enabled. Users over the age of 13 need to explicitly consent to sharing their alerts with a family organizer.
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