Identity Theft: How It Can Happen and What to Do

Nine million. That’s how many people the Federal Trade Commission estimates as having their identities stolen each year. Nine million Americans who have gone through the misery of someone else using their credit and their name. With those numbers, it’s likely that you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.

Do you know if your good name is being used by someone? Is someone out there using your Social Security number, your address, pretending to be you?

The Run Down

  • Identity theft affects nine million people each year.
  • There are five general categories of identity theft.
  • There are six methods that identity thieves typically use to steal your information.
  • It takes some diligence, but you can protect yourself.
  • You can file a police report should your identifying information be stolen.

First let’s explain what identity theft is. Identity theft is when your personal information, such as your social security number, name, or credit card information, are used without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft may be used to enable or provide funds for crimes including illegal immigration, terrorism, phishing and espionage.

There are five general categories that most identity theft cases fall into. Those categories are:

  • Criminal identity theft (posing as another person when apprehended for a crime)
  • Financial identity theft (using your identity to obtain credit, goods and services)
  • Identity cloning (using your information to assume his or her identity in daily life)
  • Medical identity theft (using your identity to obtain medical care or drugs)
  • Child identity theft (when a minor’s Social Security number is used by another person for the imposter’s personal gain)

How do identity thieves get a hold of your information? They do the following:

  • Dumpster Diving (where they go through your trash looking for bills or other correspondence with your personal information)
  • Skimming (special devices are used to steal credit/debit card numbers when your card is being processed)
  • Phishing (spam or pop-up messages are used by identity thieves on fradulent websites to get you to reveal your personal information, they may pretend to be financial institutions or companies)
  • Changing Your Address (some identity thieves divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form)
  • Stealing (they get your information the old-fashioned way – they steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information)
  • Pretexting (they will pretend to be someone else – for example a research company – in order to obtain some of your personal information and will then use that information to contact your financial institutions)

The best way to find out if you’ve been a victim of identity theft is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis. An identity theft protection plan might also be a good option. Check your credit report regularly to catch on to any identity theft early before a problem gets worse.

If you find out that identity theft has happened to you, you can file a police report, check your credit reports, notify your creditors, and dispute any unauthorized transactions. Those are steps you should take immediately to restore your good name and your good credit. Don’t hesitate in correcting your records and contacting all companies that opened fraudulent accounts. You can contact the companies by phone first and be sure to follow up in writing. The longer the inaccurate information in your name goes uncorrected, the longer it will take to resolve your identity theft.