Identity theft

Stay a step ahead of the scammers. Educate yourself on some of the most common frauds and scams.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft, also known as identity fraud or ID theft, is a crime through which an imposter obtains important pieces of personally identifiable information (PII). PII targeted by identity theft criminals often include Social Security or driver’s license numbers.

Stolen personal information can be used to run up credit card debt, purchase goods and services in the name of the victim or to provide the thief with false credentials. In some cases (although these cases are rare), an imposter might provide false identification to police, thus creating a criminal record or leaving outstanding arrest warrants for the person whose identity has been stolen.

What are the forms of identity theft?

Whether it’s a stolen credit card or a social security number, or your entire identity has been stolen, identity fraud is more common than you think. According to Javelin Research, in 2018, an estimated 14.4 million people in the U.S. were victims of ID theft.;

The most common types of identity theft are:

  • Financial identity theft is the most common type of ID theft, where someone uses another person’s information for financial gain. For example, the thief may use your bank account or credit card numbers to steal money or make purchases. They may also use your Social Security Number (SSN) to open a new credit card. 
  • Tax identity theft occurs when someone gets access to your personal information and files a tax return to get a refund—a refund which belongs to you.
  • Medical identity theft is a scenario during which the thief will use your personal information to get medical care in your name.
  • Employment identity theft occurs when thieves use your information to get a job or pass a background check.
  • Child identity theft affects the credit of minors. Most children under 16 don’t have credit reports, so it’s possible for an identity thief to open credit accounts in their name without being detected and caught. Often, child victims of ID theft may not learn of the activity until they apply for student loans or a job.;
  • Senior identity theft targets older individuals that may be more vulnerable to identity theft attacks and may be more trusting and less likely to recognize a scam. The types of ID theft they may face are the same as anyone else: financial, tax, medical ID theft, etc.
  • Criminal identity theft occurs when your personal information is stolen and used by someone who has been arrested, and then gives your identity to law enforcement. You may not detect this until consequences arise; for instance, a speeding ticket goes unpaid and a judge issues a bench warrant for your arrest.
  • Synthetic identity theft involves fraudsters fabricating identities using fake or real information, or a combination of the two. For instance, an identity thief might use a real Social Security number but use a name that’s not associated with that number. Children and the deceased may be more vulnerable to these types of attacks due to the infrequency of their Social Security Number use.

What are the warning signs of identity theft.

Here are some warning signs to look for that may indicate that an identity theft may have occurred.

  • Statements or bills for accounts you never opened arrive in the mail or email.
  • Statements or bills for legitimate accounts are not delivered by mail or email.
  • You're unexpectedly denied credit.
  • You notice unauthorized bank transactions or withdrawals.
  • You receive notification that a tax return has been filed on your behalf without your knowledge.
  • You receive unauthorized authentication messages for accounts you don't recognize.

How to check if you are a victim of identity theft.

Do you? If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft:

  • Contact your bank and credit card issuers.
  • Contact your identity protection subscription service.
  • Contact your credit monitoring services.
  • Go to the FTC fraud reporting website IdentifyTheft.gov.

How to report identity theft.

Being the victim of identity theft is scary and can cause a lot of damage—financial and more. You should report identity (ID) theft immediately to:

  • Your identify theft protection company—such as LifeLock, Aura or Identity Guard
  • Visit IdentityTheft.gov, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online to establish a recovery plan, access form/letters that can be sent to your creditors.
  • Call the FTC by phone at 1-877-438-4338. Report Identity theft to your local police department.

How to protect yourself from identity theft.

Here are some ways to prevent identity and personal information theft:1

  • Freeze your credit files with Equifax, Experian, Innovis, TransUnion, and the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange for free. Credit freezes prevent someone from applying for and getting approval for a credit account or utility services in your name.
  • Review your credit reports once a year. Be certain that they don't include accounts that you have not opened. You can order it for free from Annualcreditreport.com.
  • Collect mail every day. Place a hold on your mail when you are away from home for several days.
  • Review your credit card and bank account statements. Compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
  • Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases
  • Secure your Social Security number (SSN). Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Only give out your SSN when necessary.
  • Don't share personal information (birthdate, Social Security number, or bank account number) because someone asks for it.
  • Use the security features on your mobile phone.
  • Update sharing and firewall settings  when you're on a public wi-fi network. Use a virtual private network (VPN) , if you use public wi-fi.
  • Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards. This can prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
  • Store personal information in a safe place.
  • Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.

1Source for the above information: https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft#item-214444

Identity theft FAQs