Learn More to Avoid ID Theft
WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Maybe thieves rummaged through your trash, found a bank statement, and misused your checking account. Or, maybe they rented an apartment using your name. Maybe someone got a credit card using your identity and credit history, and bought expensive stereo equipment. The crime takes many forms. And maybe you found out about it months later, when your loan application was rejected or when you noticed charges on your credit card statement that you didn't make.
Identity theft is serious. People whose identities have been stolen can spend hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record.
Consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing, or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. They may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit. The potential for damage, loss, and stress is considerable.
HOW DO THIEVES STEAL AN IDENTITY?
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information:
- They may steal your mail, wallet or purse.
- Stealing records or personal information while they're on the job or bribing an employee who has access to these records.
- Rummage through trash in a practice known as "dumpster diving."
- Swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach a skimming device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card.
- Complete a "change of address" form with a creditor to divert your billing statement to another location.
- Steal personal information they find in your home.
- Steal personal information from you through email or phone by posing as legitimate companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. Done online, this practice is known as "phishing;" on the phone, it's called "pretexting."
How do ID thieves use personal information?
- Call your credit card issuer to change the billing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there's a problem.
- Open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the credit cards and don't pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.
- Establish phone or wireless service in your name or run up charges on your existing account.
- Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
- Create counterfeit checks or credit or debit cards, or authorize electronic transfers in your name, to drain your bank account.
- Take out an auto loan or student loan in your name.
- Get identification such as a driver's license or state ID card issued in your name, with their picture.
- Get a job or file fraudulent tax returns in your name.
- Give your name to the police during an arrest. If they don't show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.