What You Need to Know About the Dark Web

October 7, 2022 - by Identity Champion

Chances are you’ve heard the term “dark web” in a recent news report, and it’s not hard to guess why. Reports of identity theft and fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) nearly doubled between 2020 and 20211, with stolen personal information being advertised and purchased primarily on the dark web. So what is the dark web?

What Is the Dark Web? 

Simply put, the dark web describes any site on the internet that is not indexed by traditional search engines, i.e., a site that you would not be able to access with a simple Google search. Thus, these “dark web” sites can only be accessed using a special browser that must be downloaded. Because these websites are hidden from regular browsers and users are kept anonymous, it’s very difficult for law enforcement to regulate or control the sites. This anonymity makes the dark web a popular platform for identity thieves to buy and sell personal information.

Scammers have dozens of crimes they can perpetrate using stolen identities, including imposter scams, medical identity theft, and credit card fraud. But how does your personal information get on the dark web to begin with?

How Does Your Info Get on the Dark Web?

While data breaches are certainly the most common way that personal information is leaked (the Identity Theft Resource Center reported 404 large-scale data breaches with nearly 28 million victims in the first half of 20222), this isn’t the only way your information can fall into the hands of fraudsters.

Some scammers’ methods are surprisingly low tech. Scammers might dig through the trash to find mail or other documents with sensitive information, or simply steal these documents if left in plain view. They might hack into a weak wi-fi network, in which case any keystrokes you perform could be accessed without your knowledge. In some cases, fraudsters simply use the information you’ve shared on social media. It’s amazing how far a scammer can get with a name, an email address, and a birthdate.

How Do You Know If Your Info Is Exposed on the Dark Web?

While there are helpful tips on how to tell if someone is using your identity, there are specific resources you can utilize to protect yourself against dark web exposure. 

Dark web monitoring can give you an early warning of suspicious activity (i.e. if your information is shared on the dark web) so you can take action before fraud is committed or take action to repair the damage if your information has already been used. The website Have I Been Pwned is another helpful resource which compiles the data from hundreds of breaches, and will check your email address against these lists to confirm whether your information has been leaked. 

How You Can Protect Your Personal Info

Even if you’ve already been the victim of dark web identity theft, there are precautions you can take to minimize the damage and protect yourself from further fraud. Most experts agree on these five simple steps:

  1. Freeze your credit. This will prevent anyone– fraudsters included –from opening new accounts, credit cards, or loans in your name.
  2. Closely monitor your accounts. If possible, set up a credit alert through your bank or credit card company to alert you to any unusual activity. 
  3. Check your credit report often and thoroughly for unexpected changes.
  4. Utilize a virtual private network (VPN) to hide your internet activity from prying eyes.
  5. Sign up for dark web monitoring, which will alert you if your personal information (social security number, driver’s license number, bank routing info, etc.) shows up on illegal online markets.

Pro Tip: Dark web monitoring is available to AAA Members at no extra cost through our Basic Identity Champion plan

Unfortunately, even with these safeguards in place, there’s no guaranteed way to prevent your information from being stolen– and once your personal details have been published on the dark web, it’s often impossible to reverse the process. 

For this reason, AAA Identity Champion not only offers dark web monitoring, but insurance that can cover you financially in case of a data breach. Our Complete plan offers up to $5 million in insurance coverage3 to reimburse you for legal fees & eligible expenses as well as up to $500,000 in coverage for stolen funds. Choose the plan that best fits your needs today!

1Fraud Reports by Federal Trade Commission 2020 & 2021 - FTC Consumer Sentinel Network

2Identity Theft Resource Center | First Half 2022 Data Breach Analysis

3/*The Identity Theft Insurance is underwritten and administered by American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida, an Assurant company under group or blanket policy(ies). The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. 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.