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Cybersecurity

What Is Dark Web Monitoring?

Dark web monitoring is the process of searching for and keeping track of personal information found on a portion of the internet not accessible via normal means.

The dark web is a hidden network of websites that requires a special web browser to access. It's hidden from search engines and allows users to mask their IP addresses. The dark web's privacy and anonymity means it serves as a venue for people who want to stay hidden, whether that's for innocuous reasons, or because they're involved in crime—including identity theft.

If someone has managed to steal your Social Security number or other identifying information, they may try to sell it on the dark web to someone who wants to use it to commit fraud. Dark web monitoring can help you keep your identity safe and, in doing so, protect your finances.

How Does Dark Web Monitoring Work?

Dark web monitoring services scan hundreds of thousands of websites each day to look for personal information that criminals can use to steal your identity. That can include the following:

  • Social Security number
  • Email address
  • Passport number
  • Medical identification numbers
  • Bank account numbers
  • Phone numbers
  • Driver's license
  • Credit/debit cards
  • Retail/membership cards

Experian offers Dark Web Surveillance through its IdentityWorks℠ Plus and IdentityWorks Premium products. These paid services also provide several other credit monitoring and identity theft features and protections. With IdentityWorks, Experian will scan 600,000 dark web pages every day and send you a notification if it finds potentially compromising information.

You can get this product for yourself and your family, which means you can also check to see if your child's personal information is on the dark web. You are in control of what information you want to be monitored on the dark web. For the information you choose to monitor, just enter the relevant details directly in your Experian account.

Not sure if you're ready to sign up? You can run a free dark web scan with Experian to see if your Social Security number, phone number or email is on the dark web.

Types of ID Theft That Can Happen on the Dark Web

The dark web gives criminals the gift of anonymity, so it can be difficult to track down who has sold and purchased your information. Depending on the type of information that's listed, thieves can commit all sorts of identity theft and fraud.

For example, if it's your Social Security number, whoever is in possession of it can open fraudulent accounts in your name, file fraudulent tax returns and health insurance claims, and more. If they manage to get a password that was leaked in a data breach, they can use that password to log in to any of the online accounts where you use it.

Finally, if it's your bank account or credit card number that gets leaked and sold, criminals can use that information to drain your checking and savings accounts and make fraudulent purchases.

While it's possible to recover from identity theft, the process can take anywhere between a few days and several years in some cases. It can also be an expensive endeavor, requiring a lot of your time to track down, report and resolve the issues that arise—in some cases, you may need to miss work to stay on top of things.

Identity theft left unaddressed can also have a big impact on your credit score, which will make getting financing expensive or even impossible. If identity theft has affected your credit reports, you might explore filing a dispute with the credit bureaus that maintain them.

One of the best ways to reduce the amount of time and money it requires to rebound from identity theft is to spot it before it happens (or early on in the process) and take steps to stop the thief in their tracks.

How You Can Protect Your Information From the Dark Web

In addition to monitoring that will alert you if your information shows up on the dark web, it's important to take a few extra steps to stay safe. There are some things you can do to reduce the odds that your personal information will land in the wrong hands in the first place and also spot the signs of identity theft early:

  • Use strong passwords and change them regularly. With so many aspects of our life online, it's virtually impossible to remember a unique password for each online account. Consider using a password manager like LastPass or 1Password to help you set and keep track of strong passwords for each website you use. Also, consider changing your passwords regularly in case the information does get leaked.
  • Browse securely. If you're on a public network like the one coffee shops, shopping malls and airports provide, use a virtual private network to protect others from eavesdropping on your connection. The same goes for using secure websites—before you provide any type of personal information, make sure the website you're using is secure. You can do this by checking to make sure the URL begins with HTTPS, or your browser might show a padlock icon or the word "secure."
  • Safeguard your information. There are several different ways criminals can access your personal information. Prevention tactics include signing up for e-statements so they can't get it from your mailbox, password-protecting your mobile devices, keeping your Social Security number and passport in a safe or lockbox, and avoiding leaving your wallet or purse in your vehicle.

If you've already fallen victim to identity theft, you may be able to spot the signs by checking your bank and credit card statements and online accounts regularly for transactions you don't recognize, checking your score and credit report frequently, and looking out for suspicious communications.

Once you spot identity theft, be sure to file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Depending on the situation, you may also need to file a police report with local law enforcement and also contact your state's motor vehicle department, the U.S. postal service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the U.S. State Department passport agency.

You may also want to request a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit reports. These can help prevent fraudsters from opening new credit accounts in your name.

Proactive Monitoring Can Help Reduce Your Risk

Cybercriminals aren't likely to let up anytime soon, so it's extremely important to do everything you can to safeguard your information. Monitoring your online information via dark web monitoring and credit monitoring—especially through services that do all the legwork and notify you of potential issues—can let you sleep a little better, knowing you will be notified if you need to take action to prevent financial or reputational harm.