Online identity theft is a real issue in today’s exceedingly digital world and is something several freelancers are at risk for. Identity fraud can cause serious damage to your freelancing brand, so here’s our guide on how to protect yourself online!
Over 14.4 million people were affected by identity theft in 2018, according to the 2019 Identity Fraud Study from research and advisory firm Javelin.
Sadly, this reality impacts freelancers as well. Thousands of freelancers worldwide have to deal with identity theft every year. In an industry growing at a rapid pace where freelancers need to work hard on their reputation, identity fraud can cause serious damage to their professional image. Of course, its financial implications are a more serious issue that cannot be ignored either.
Regardless of whether you are a writer, software developer, or web designer, your online presence makes you vulnerable to identity theft.
So how do you deal with cyber-crime when your work depends on maintaining an online presence? Let’s find out!
What is Identity Theft & how does it impact the Freelance Industry?
Over the past decade, several freelance identity theft cases have been shared publicly. Identity theft through impersonation of a freelancer can occur almost overnight. After all, freelancers tend to showcase a lot of information about themselves on the Internet.
Imagine putting in years of effort and hard work into networking, pitching clients and building a personal brand in the industry as a freelancer, only to have it compromised in a single moment. This can be an enormous burden with far-reaching consequences.
How can identity theft affect you as a freelancer?
Hackers or cybercriminals can affect your freelance business in several ways:
- A fake account with your details can be sold to potential fake account buyers
- They can pretend to be you and get work on your behalf
- Thieves can contact your existing clients and cause you a loss of work
- By delivering poor quality of work, they can mar your reputation
How to protect yourself from identity theft
1. Set stronger passwords
while this is pretty much a no-brainer at this point, it’s important to state that easy to remember passwords are often easier to guess. So it’s best to get into the habit of maintaining complex passwords for every platform that you use online.
2. Keep an eye on your public data
If you are someone who deals with a lot of visual work, using the Google reverse image method is a great way to find out if someone is claiming your work as their own.
3. Don’t be a victim of phishing
Being a smart online user is crucial in order to avoid getting tricked into revealing your confidential information. Don’t click on any suspicious links or advertisement and share your details only on encrypted websites that you trust. Phishing is, unfortunately, one of the biggest ways cybercriminals attack their targets.
4. Keep your system secure
Get a good antivirus and firewall to block viruses and protect your system from spam emails, unwanted ads, and phishing websites.
5. Work on reputable platforms
While registering on several websites may seem alluring to build your freelance career, only choose those that are reputable. Quality websites have stringent safety measures in place that are essential to maintain your security. Freelancermap is a safe bet for freelancers within the IT community.
6. Secure freelancing on-the-go
If your freelance business requires you to travel, or you constantly find yourself in different cities living the digital nomad lifestyle, don’t forget to protect your data with our security tips.
7. Check your financial transactions often
Get in the habit of routinely going through your financial transactions and bank balances. This simple activity will disclose the occurrence of unknown or suspicious activity.
8. Keep your Social Security number (SSN) private
Unless explicitly required by an employer who has hired you or a government official, don’t disclose your SSN to anyone. It’s your identity; keep it safe.
9. Cross-link your online profiles
Link all your online profiles to each other. Also, include the URLs of these profiles on your email, Skype, and other messenger accounts that you use for communication. It will redirect your clients to your real profiles whenever they search for you.
10. Maintain a visible profile on all relevant freelancing websites
While it is still important to sign up only on legitimate websites, make sure you’re available on the major freelancing sites. This will ensure that you don’t leave a chance for an impersonator to copy-paste your profile to another popular networking site.
What should you do if your identity is stolen as a Freelancer?
What do I do if someone is already pretending to be me? Here are a few steps you should take immediately in the event of identity theft:
- Notify the platform: If you find a copycat account on an online platform, using your information, contact the platform, and ask their team to block the fake profile.
- File a police report: Alert your local police department and file a report. This report will be useful in tracking down the identity thief. It will also come in handy when you want to access your financial information from banks or creditors, etc.
- Inform the IRS: Contact the IRS immediately if you find someone working under your name and using your social security number. This will ensure that you don’t have to pay taxes from an income you never earned.
- Get in touch with ‘all’ your clients: An identity thief may reach out to your previous clients to get some work – which is why the moment you confirm that your identity is stolen, contact every client and let them know about it. This will prevent any further damage to your reputation or income.
- Call your bank: If you encounter identity theft, there’s a real possibility that this may extend to unwanted transactions may take place through your bank accounts. So, contact all the financial institutions that you have dealt with so far and alert them of the situation. If required, you may even lock or close an account to avoid further problems.
- Be a responsible freelancer: The online world can be dangerous at the best of times and a nonchalant attitude towards cyber-crimes can do you great harm. It is, therefore, crucial for you to protect your identity – especially if you rely on freelancing for your livelihood.
Apart from yourself, you owe it to your clients as well. After all, when they deal with your identity thief, they are placing their trust in you, not your impersonator.
Follow the above-listed measures to stay safe in the online world and grow your freelance career without any obstacles.
Have you ever dealt with identity theft? Share your experience by leaving a comment below.