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Is your personal information showing up on the dark web?
Better yet, how would you even know? And if your personal data is showing up on dark web sites, what does that mean for you and your loved ones? Is there anything you can do to protect yourself – or prevent things from getting worse?
Learn more about the dark web, how to know if your personal information is on it, and what you can do when your bank accounts and your identity are under attack.
The “Dark Web” is a collection of websites and web pages hidden from the average internet user. These sites are not only inaccessible through normal web browsers, but are unindexed and do not appear in Google search results.
Because this layer of the web is hidden, users operating in dark web marketplaces remain anonymous. And, for the most part, their activity isn’t tracked.
For many, it’s this last part that is most troubling. Protected by multiple levels of encryption, dark web users can share, sell and use information almost at will. This includes hackers, scammers and identity thieves aiming to use it against you.
So, when you fall victim to a data breach, and your personal information slips past the surface web and into the dark web, chances are good it will be exposed to any number of bad characters.
And when that happens, anything from your online banking and credit card accounts to online accounts and social profiles are at risk of attack.
While websites on the surface web and deep web generally have such endings as “.com,” “.net” or “.org,” every site on the entire dark web ends in “.onion.” What’s more: special software like TOR is generally needed to access dark web sites. This adds numerous layers of encryption that protect user anonymity.
But despite its reputation, the dark web isn’t always used for nefarious purposes. In fact, many trusted news organizations and legit companies regularly use the dark web to exchange info.
Still, its anonymous nature makes it the ideal place for criminals to sell sensitive information and commit identity theft. And even with a quality dark web monitoring service, stopping such activity and protecting your info can be a major challenge.
If you ever discover your name, email, phone number or login info on the dark web, it was likely stolen.
The question then becomes, how?
Information thieves use any number of methods to take your sensitive data. These may include:
Criminals often rely on malicious software embedded in your system to capture your passwords and access your account.
Hackers work around the clock to hack online accounts and steal your personal info directly.
Sophisticated methods like SIM swapping allow criminals to take control of your phone number. They then use that info to gain access to bank accounts, medical records and more.
Phishing emails and text scams are popular ways to hijack your passwords, take your data and commit fraud in your name.
Hundreds of data aggregates like Whitepages.com, Intelius, BeenVerified and others collect public records and advertise your personal data in Google search. For a small fee, criminals and trolls can access that stolen personal information and use it to hurt you.
Scammers don’t always need high-tech techniques to steal your data. In fact, some still obtain stolen information by sorting through your trash, locating bank statements and financial information they then sell to the highest bidder.
In short, your identity data can make it onto the dark web, and into the wrong hands, in a variety of ways. All criminals need are the will and motivation to pursue it.
Scammers traffic in all kinds of personal information on the dark web, using any stolen data available to access your accounts and steal your identity.
Major events like data breaches and data dumps can result in a personal info buffet for dark web scammers. These events can dish out such sensitive personal details as your:
A thorough dark web scan can sometimes reveal a surprising amount of sensitive material making its way through dark web hacking forums and websites.
Unfortunately, once you identify these items, it’s a pretty good sign there is suspicious activity surrounding your information. It may also signal that you’re susceptible to identity theft and the time is now to take action.
Many companies offer dark web monitoring and dark web scans to learn if your information is on the dark web. Some even provide a free dark web scan tool, though a free service offer is generally only available with a catch (sign-up, paid subscription, etc.).
But while each dark web scan may market itself as a great way to identify suspicious activity on the dark web, it’s important to weigh your options carefully. If you suspect your information is on the dark web, be sure to research all dark web scans out there before making a commitment. Finding a tool that provides comprehensive coverage and can be customized to your situation is always your best bet.
It’s important to note that much like the World Wide Web, the dark web is incredibly vast. This makes it nearly impossible for even the most advanced dark web monitoring service to find every piece of exposed data.
Not only that, but because data breaches aren’t the only way info gets compromised (i.e., data aggregate skimming, low-tech data theft, etc.), a dark web scan may sometimes miss a crucial or sensitive data point you’re honing in on.
That said, performing a dark web scan typically provides the best place to start, particularly when you believe your sensitive information is at risk.
If you run a dark web scan and find your personal information on the dark web, you were most likely the victim of a data breach. But no matter how that compromised data made it to the dark web, chances are you may soon fall victim to an even bigger criminal threat: identity theft.
A stolen identity can have serious, even life-altering consequences that can take years and thousands of dollars to overcome. Not only does identity theft put your bank accounts, credit score and credit reports at risk, it can also put a big dent in your reputation, damaging your brand and credibility for years down the road.
What’s more: identity theft and cyber fraud are not only big problems across the country, they also show few signs of trending downward any time soon.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than 4.8 million Americans filed fraud and identity theft reports in 2020, a 45% jump from 2019. And of all complaints received by the FTC in 2020, identity theft accounted for over 30%, largely due to a 110% increase from the year before.
Cyber attacks like ransomware, phishing scams and bank account fraud are also on the rise. Using stolen personal information found on the dark web, cybercriminals end up cheating consumers out of tens of millions every year!
In short, once your social security number, credit card info or other personal data is found anywhere on the dark web, your identity is at risk. Hackers and scammers are always on the hunt for this stolen data, and won’t hesitate to use it against you.
Once disseminated, it’s nearly impossible to remove your personal information from the dark web. A dark web scan can reveal new mentions of your name and sensitive personal data. But trying to remove those items will likely lead you to a digital dead end.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to mitigate the damage and slow the spread of your personal data. Taking these actions quickly provides a fighting chance at protecting your info and preventing such issues in the future.
If your bank account or credit card numbers show up on the dark web, contact your financial service providers immediately. You may have to cancel your accounts and create new ones, but it may be the best way to keep your financial information safe.
It doesn’t matter when or where your info is found on the dark web. When your data is exposed, it’s time to unleash your inner password manager and change every password in your arsenal. From banking logins and social profiles to email accounts and subscription services, all passwords should be replaced with strong passwords as soon as possible.
Closely monitor bank statements and credit card bills for signs of suspicious activity. If you find unusual or fraudulent purchases, there’s a good chance it’ll be used again soon. In such cases, you should call your credit card company immediately. The faster you notify your provider, the more likely they will cancel those payments and won’t hold you responsible.
When you do find evidence of fraud, be sure to ask your provider for a new card and account number.
When your info is stolen, you’ll also need to monitor your credit reports for any new accounts fraudsters have opened in your name. And the best way to ensure you’re getting the most up-to-date info is to request those reports from all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
You may obtain free credit reports and credit scores (one from each bureau) once a year. When you receive these reports, scan each carefully for any evidence of bank loans or lines of credit opened in your name. If you identify anything suspicious to unfamiliar, call the provider that issued the account and explain the situation. It’s also a good idea to file a report with the FTC.
People-search sites like Whitepages.com, Instant Checkmate and hundreds of others advertise your personal data each day in search engine results, making it all too easy for thieves to find it. Once found in search engines, criminals have no qualms about using it against you or worse: sharing and selling it across the dark web.
Fortunately, the right personal information removal service can help you track down all mentions of your name and info across search results pages, helping you identify and remove those listings before they fall into the wrong hands.
If your name, email or banking info has found its way into the dark web, the time to act is now. Anyone from phone scammers to identity thieves never hesitate to steal your info and ruin your credit. The sooner you take action to protect yourself, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Need a hand removing your personal information from the web? From personal details to background check data, we provide solutions to put you in control of your information fast.