Having Your Personally Identifiable Information Compromised Is Most Closely Related to Identity Theft

Having your personally identifiable information (PII) compromised is a serious security risk that can expose you to various forms of fraud and cybercrime. PII is any information that can be used to identify you, such as your name, date of birth, Social Security number, email address, phone number, bank account number, or credit card number. If a hacker or a malicious actor gets access to your PII, they can use it to impersonate you and commit identity theft.

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is the crime of using someone else’s identity or information to obtain credit, goods, services, or benefits without their permission. Identity theft can also involve using someone else’s identity to evade law enforcement, commit crimes, or harm their reputation. Identity theft can have serious consequences for the victims, such as:

  • Loss of money and assets
  • Damage to credit score and history
  • Difficulty in obtaining loans, mortgages, or insurance
  • Legal problems and lawsuits
  • Emotional distress and anxiety

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft was the most common type of consumer fraud reported in 2021, affecting more than 4.8 million Americans.

How Does PII Compromise Lead to Identity Theft?

There are many ways that your PII can be compromised and lead to identity theft. Some of the common methods are:

  • Data breaches: A data breach is a security incident in which unauthorized parties gain access to sensitive data or confidential information, including PII. Data breaches can affect individuals, businesses, governments, or organizations. Data breaches can occur due to hacking, phishing, malware, insider threats, human error, or physical theft. According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2022 report2, the global average cost of a data breach was $4.35 million in 2021, and the average time to identify and contain a breach was 287 days.
  • Phishing: Phishing is a type of cyberattack that involves sending fraudulent emails or messages that appear to come from legitimate sources, such as banks, government agencies, or online services. The goal of phishing is to trick the recipients into clicking on malicious links or attachments, or providing their personal or financial information. Phishing can also involve spoofing the sender’s address or domain name, or using social engineering techniques to manipulate the victims.
  • Malware: Malware is a term that refers to any malicious software that can harm your computer or device, such as viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, adware, or keyloggers. Malware can infect your device through various channels, such as downloading files from untrusted sources, opening email attachments, visiting compromised websites, or connecting to infected devices. Malware can steal your PII by logging your keystrokes, capturing your screen, accessing your files, or monitoring your online activity.
  • Social media: Social media platforms are popular and convenient ways to communicate and share information with others. However, they can also pose risks to your PII if you are not careful about what you post or who you interact with. Cybercriminals can use social media to gather information about you, such as your name, location, interests, contacts, or photos. They can also use social media to impersonate you or someone you know and trick you into revealing your PII or sending them money.

How Can You Protect Your PII and Prevent Identity Theft?

The best way to protect your PII and prevent identity theft is to follow some basic cybersecurity tips and best practices. Here are some of them:

  • Use strong passwords and a password manager: A strong password is one that is long (at least 12 characters), complex (a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols), and unique (different for each account). A password manager is a tool that helps you create and store strong passwords securely. You only need to remember one master password to access all your accounts.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA): 2FA is an extra layer of security that requires you to verify your identity with something you have (such as a code sent to your phone) or something you are (such as your fingerprint) in addition to your password. 2FA makes it harder for hackers to access your accounts even if they have your password.
  • Double-check that link before you click: Before you click on any link in an email or a message, make sure it is from a trusted source and it matches the expected destination. You can hover over the link with your mouse cursor or tap and hold on it with your finger to see the full URL. If the link looks suspicious or unfamiliar, do not click on it.
  • Use a VPN when on public Wi-Fi: A VPN (virtual private network) is a service that encrypts your internet traffic and routes it through a secure server in another location. A VPN protects your online privacy and security, especially when you are using public Wi-Fi networks, such as in cafes, hotels, or airports. Public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured and can expose your PII to hackers or eavesdroppers.
  • Keep your apps and devices up-to-date: Updating your apps and devices regularly is important to fix any security vulnerabilities or bugs that hackers can exploit. You should enable automatic updates for your operating system, browser, antivirus, and other software. You should also check for updates for your mobile devices, such as your phone, tablet, or smartwatch.
  • Don’t store sensitive info on your phone (and always use a passcode lock): Your phone contains a lot of PII, such as your contacts, messages, photos, emails, and apps. If you lose your phone or it gets stolen, you could lose access to your PII or expose it to others. You should avoid storing sensitive information on your phone, such as your passwords, bank details, or personal documents. You should also always use a passcode lock or biometric authentication (such as face ID or fingerprint) to secure your phone.
  • Use privacy-focused apps: Privacy-focused apps are apps that respect your privacy and do not collect, share, or sell your PII without your consent. Some examples of privacy-focused apps are Signal (for messaging), DuckDuckGo (for searching), ProtonMail (for emailing), and Tor Browser (for browsing). You should use these apps instead of the more popular ones that may track your online behavior or sell your data to advertisers.
  • Secure your local network: Your local network is the network of devices that are connected to your home router or modem. Your local network can be vulnerable to hackers if you do not secure it properly. You should change the default password and name of your router or modem, enable encryption (such as WPA2 or WPA3), and disable remote access or guest access. You should also use a firewall to block unwanted incoming or outgoing traffic.


Having your personally identifiable information compromised is most closely related to identity theft, which is a serious crime that can cause you financial loss, legal trouble, and emotional stress. To protect your PII and prevent identity theft, you should follow some basic cybersecurity tips and best practices, such as using strong passwords and a password manager, turning on two-factor authentication, double-checking links before clicking, using a VPN on public Wi-Fi, keeping your apps and devices up-to-date, avoiding storing sensitive info on your phone, using privacy-focused apps, and securing your local network. By following these tips, you can improve your online safety and security and reduce the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Doms Desk

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