What It Is
Identity theft is the crime of obtaining the personal or financial information of another person for the sole purpose of assuming that person's name or identity in order to make transactions or purchases.
How It Happens
They may open lines of credit or order credit cards; take out loans; or even rent a hotel room, apartment, or car, or purchase a home or a car. They print fake checks, fake IDs, and any other documentation they need to impersonate you. If they have your bank account information, they may take over your account and withdraw your money. Some identity thieves do this in person, and many just commit their crimes online. It's a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your finances and credit history, and can take time, money, and patience to resolve.
An identity thief may start with a piece of mail or a receipt or invoice he/she has found or stolen. The rest of your personal information (date of birth, social security number, drivers license number, etc.) is available for purchase through unscrupulous means and even on social networking webpages.
The theft of mail from residential mailboxes is a common starting point for most identity thieves. An identity thief has an easier time if you have an unlocked mailbox or if you have lost your wallet and carried all your personal information in it, or you use social network sites. Many profiles include email addresses or phone numbers, or information about family members and even pets and mother's maiden name - popular security questions used by websites to authenticate a user's identity, and therefore can be used by identity thieves.
There are still a great number of Facebook users that have a "public" profile that allows anyone to see such information. Accepting "friend" requests from strangers also puts you at higher risk of Identity Theft. Additionally, users of LinkedIn (a popular employment-oriented website) often include past and current jobs and other useful data for identity thieves to fill out fraudulent credit applications.
How to Avoid It
- Buy a locking mailbox insert for your home mailbox so no one can steal your mail;
- Contact your bank or account issuers if you do not receive a statement on time.
- Don't carry your Social Security number or passport in your wallet.
- Don't mail outgoing payments from your home mailbox; use the post office.
- Don't put personal identifying information on your social networking pages.
- Don't share by email or fax your personal information unless necessary.
- Do not store your personal or account information online or in your email account or computer.
- Keep your wallet safe and close to you.
- Monitor your credit report or have a credit monitoring service assist you. Place a recurring fraud alert on your credit if you have been a victim.
- Shred all personal documents, bills, receipts, and invoices that are not needed.
Obtain a free copy of your credit report annually at: Annual Credit Report's website or from the following credit reporting agencies:
For additional information about identity theft, please visit the following websites: