6 Everyday objects that can lead to identity theft

A photograph of a laptop, a cup of tea, a blanket, and an old cell phone on a couch.

Many everyday objects can lead to identity theft. Unfortunately, they often get overlooked because people focus on their computers and cloud accounts. But you also need to be wary of other ways cybercriminals can access your personal data.

Essentially, if you're connected to the internet, your data is at risk.

For over 25 years, WEBIT Services has helped hundreds of clients identify and address security risks to protect their businesses.

By reading this article, you will learn about six everyday items that criminals can use to steal your information.

1. Old smartphones

Just think of all the information our mobile phones hold. We have synced connections with cloud services. Phones also contain banking apps, business apps, and personal health apps. These are all nicely stored on one small device.

As chip technology has advanced, smartphones now hold more "stuff." For example, documents and spreadsheets can now be easily stored alongside reams of photos and videos.

Old smartphones often end up at charity shops or in the trash. Cybercriminals can access personal data if the phone isn't properly wiped.

To protect your information, properly clean old phones by erasing all data. You can also perform a factory reset to remove all personal settings.

In addition, you shouldn't just throw electronics away like normal garbage. You should also dispose of electronics properly. Proper cell phone recycling and disposal will vary from state to state.

2. Wireless printers

Most modern printers are wireless and connect to your home or work network. Connecting to your printer from any room is convenient, but the fact that your printer connects to the internet can leave your data at risk.

Most people don't think about printers when using data security protections. But, unfortunately, this leaves them open to a hack. When this happens, a hacker can get data like sensitive documents from the printer.

Cybercriminals could also leverage the printer to breach other devices on the same network.

Protect printers by ensuring you keep their firmware updated. Always install updates as soon as possible.

You should also turn it off when you don't need it. When it's powered down, it's not accessible by a hacker.

3. USB sticks

Did you ever run across a USB stick laying around? You might think, "Oh, sweet! A free storage device!" Or maybe you want to return it to the rightful owner. But unfortunately, plugging in an unknown device can be dangerous.

You should never plug a USB device of unknown origin into your computer.

Some cybercriminals will use USB devices to spread malware and steal data. They plant malware on these sticks and then leave them in public spaces as bait. When you plug it into your device, the USB's malware can infect your computer.

4. Old hard drives

Computer hard drives can store other personal data in the system and program files.

Plus, if you're still logged into a browser, much of your data could be at risk. Browsers store passwords, credit cards, visit history, and more.

When disposing of an old computer or removable drive, ensure its memory is clean. Just deleting your files isn't enough. The entire system must be wiped.

It's best to get help from an IT professional to properly erase your computer drive to make it safe for disposal, donation, or reuse.

5. Trash cans

Identity theft criminals aren't only online. They can also be trolling the neighborhood on trash day. So be careful what you throw out in your trash.

It's not unusual for garbage to enable identity theft. For example, it can include pre-approved credit card offers that you consider "junk mail." Your trash can also hold voided checks, old bank statements, and insurance paperwork. These items could have the information thieves need to commit fraud or pose as you.

To prevent identity theft through your trash can, you should shred any documents that contain personal information. Before you throw out documents and mail, run them through a paper shredder. This extra step could save you from a costly incident.

6. Children's WiFi-connected toys

Children's toys that connect to your home internet network can also pose a risk.

Cybercriminals can find vulnerabilities through toys like electronic bears, smart kid watches, and WiFi-connected Barbies. For example, Mattel's Hello Barbie was found to enable the theft of personal information. A hacker could also use its microphone to spy on families.

Parents might think these toys are cool or educational, but they don't consider their data security. After all, these are children's toys. Unfortunately, this often means they can be easier to hack.

You should be wary of any new internet-connected devices you bring into your home, including toys. Install all firmware updates. Additionally, do your homework to see if a data breach has involved the toy.

Next steps for protecting your identity at home

Cybercriminals have learned how to use seemingly harmless devices to steal personal data. They aren't above digging through the garbage or hacking children's toys.

Here are six everyday objects cybercriminals and identity thieves may take advantage of:

  1. Old smartphones
  2. Wireless printers
  3. USB sticks
  4. Old hard drives
  5. Trash cans
  6. Children's Wi-Fi-connected toys

To adequately protect your data, use the following precautions:

  1. Fully erase old mobile devices and hard drives.
  2. Update firmware for all devices and turn them off when not in use.
  3. Do not use USB drives found in public spaces.
  4. Shred documents and mail before throwing them away.
  5. Research toys for vulnerabilities before purchasing and keep their firmware updated.

WEBIT Services is passionate about helping clients reach their cybersecurity goals. We believe education and knowledge are the first steps in building effective cybersecurity practices.

If you're looking for a new IT provider, schedule a 30-minute consultation to see if WEBIT Services might fit your company.

If you are not ready to speak to our team of experts but would like to learn more about cybersecurity, we recommend the following articles: