An identity thief is someone who obtains some piece of your sensitive information, like your Social Security number, date of birth, address, and phone number, and uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.
How Identity Thieves Get Your Information
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information. For example, they may:
- get information from businesses or other institutions by:
- stealing records or information while they're on the job
- bribing an employee who has access to these records
- hacking these records
- conning information out of employees
- rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or public trash dumps in a practice known as "dumpster diving"
- get your credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your report
- steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data storage device in a practice known as "skimming." They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach the device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card.
- steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
- steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, new checks, or tax information
- complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location
- steal personal information from your home
- scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official
How Identity Thieves Use Your Information
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may:
- go on spending sprees using your credit and debit card account numbers to buy "big-ticket" items like computers that they can easily sell
- open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
- change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on the account. Because the bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there's a problem.
- take out auto loans in your name
- establish phone or wireless service in your name
- counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account
- open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account
- file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred, or to avoid eviction
- give your name to the police during an arrest. If they are released and don't show up for their court date, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.
Managing your personal information is key to minimizing your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Keep an eye on your purse or wallet, and keep them in a safe place at all times.
Don't carry your Social Security card.
Don't share your personal information with random people you don't know. Identity thieves are really good liars, and could pretend to be from banks, Internet service providers, or even government agencies to get you to reveal identifying information.
Read the statements from your bank and credit accounts and look for unusual charges or suspicious activity. Report any problems to your bank and creditors right away.
Tear up or shred your charge receipts, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards, and any other documents with personal information before you put them in the trash.
How To Tell If You're a Victim of Identity Theft
Monitor the balances of your financial accounts. Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals. Other indications of identity theft can be:
- failing to receive bills or other mail signaling an address change by the identity thief;
- receiving credit cards for which you did not apply;
- denial of credit for no apparent reason; or
- receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about merchandise or services you didn't buy.
Pay attention to your credit report and don’t be a victim of Identity Theft.