What is the Dark Web and What Does It Mean for You?

Learn what the dark web is, how it works, and the steps to take if your personal information is found on it

If you hear about your personal information showing up on the dark web, it can raise plenty of questions. 

But like many things in life, knowledge is power. And a solid understanding of the dark web—and what to do if your information is compromised—can help you take steps to protect your identity and accounts.

Where is the Dark Web?

The World Wide Web is made up of three main layers: the surface web, the deep web and the dark web.

When you search the web, read news from a webpage or shop for sneakers online, you’re most likely on the surface web. Most people are here when they’re online. 

If you sign in to your email account, you head into the deep web. This part of the web stores information protected by passwords. Your email, bank account and online health records are all on the deep web. 

The deep web also contains the dark web. And unlike the other layers of the web, the dark web can’t be seen from normal web browsers. Users are anonymous, and their activity isn’t tracked. 

How Does the Dark Web Work?

Websites on the dark web end in “.onion” rather than in endings like “.com” or “.gov.” Users need a special browser to access sites on the dark web. One example is The Onion Router, or Tor for short. And just as an onion has many layers, Tor has many levels of encryption. This is what helps keep users anonymous.

U.S. military researchers created dark web technology to send and receive messages anonymously. While its name may sound threatening, the dark web is used by some legitimate businesses and organizations

Some journalists use the dark web to protect the identity of sources. News organizations also use it to make journalism accessible in places where it’s blocked. Still, because users are anonymous, the dark web is also used by criminals for illegal activities like selling stolen information. 

How Does Personal Information End Up On the Dark Web?

If your personal information is spotted on the dark web, it could mean someone took the information without your permission.

Criminals steal information in a variety of ways. Some try hacking into accounts or using malware to capture passwords. Others attempt to collect information through phishing scams and SIM swaps. But not all scams are high tech. Some thieves will even go through the trash to look for documents containing personal data. 

How Can I Find Out If My Information Is On the Dark Web?

A monitoring tool can help you stay on top of your personal information. CreditWise® from Capital One® is a free service that gives you the ability to detect suspicious activity. 

CreditWise scans the dark web—including thousands of unsafe sites, hacking forums and illegal digital marketplaces—and alerts you if it finds your Social Security number or email address so you can take action.

In addition to alerting you about your information appearing on the dark web, CreditWise also monitors your Experian® and TransUnion® credit reports for any meaningful changes. So you’ll know about recent credit inquiries, delinquent accounts and more.

What Can I Do if My Information Is Found On the Dark Web?

If your email address or SSN were found on the dark web, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were used by a fraudster to commit identity theft. But it’s still important to be vigilant and take steps to help protect yourself. 

If you are a CreditWise user and receive notification of a dark web alert, you can see what additional information may have been found. Just check the “Additional Info” section of the alert in the CreditWise app or on CreditWise.com. You can then take steps to help protect your personal info by visiting the “Let’s take action!” section.

Worried your personal information might have been stolen? If it’s related to your email, it may be as simple as changing your password. If your SSN is involved, here are three steps to consider taking:

  • You can freeze your credit for free. This will ensure that no one can access your credit report. And that makes it more difficult for a thief to use your name to open a new line of credit.  
  • Instead of freezing your credit, you could also place a fraud alert on your credit report. Just call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax®, Experian and TransUnion. This allows creditors to get a copy of your report as long as they take steps to verify your identity before opening an account in your name.
  • It’s also a good idea to check your credit reports for suspicious activity at least once a year. You can obtain free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com

Want more information about how to protect yourself from identity theft? The Federal Trade Commission provides resources for dealing with lost or exposed information.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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