Identity theft or fraud happens when someone uses an individual’s personal or financial information without permission to open accounts, file taxes, or make purchases. It can damage a person’s credit status and cost time and money, as individuals try to recover from identity theft. It is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States.
Scammers can steal an identity, including in person, online, through social media, and by phone. Phishing scams target people by tricking them into giving sensitive information like usernames and passwords by using fraudulent emails or websites. Hackers make use of malware to steal bank account numbers, credit card information and Social Security numbers. Surprisingly, children are often victims of identity theft due to them having an unused social security number, and no one is monitoring it. Children are 51% more likely than adults to have their identity stolen.
Scammers may also:
- Steal a wallet or purse to get ID, credit, or bank cards
- Go through trash to retrieve bank statements or tax documents
- Install skimmers at ATM machines, cash registers, and fuel pumps to digitally steal information a bank card
- Get personal information from a phone when individuals use public Wi-Fi
- Use “phishing” to get information from individuals through fraudulent email, texts, or phone calls
- Look through an individual’s social media accounts to find identifying information in posts or photos. Or scammers may ask for personal information in online quizzes and surveys.
Some warning signs of identity theft:
Beware of these signs, as individuals may not know that they experienced ID theft immediately:
- Bills for items individuals did not buy
- Debt collection calls for accounts not opened
- Information on credit report for accounts not opened
- Denials of loan applications
- Mail stops coming to, or is missing from, your mailbox
How to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Do not answer phone calls, texts, social media messages, or email from numbers or people you do not know.
- Do not share personal information like your bank account number, Social Security number, or date of birth.
- Collect your mail every day and place a hold on your mail when you will be on vacation or away from your home.
- Review credit card and bank account statements. Watch for and report unauthorized or suspicious transactions.
- Understand how ATM skimming works and how to protect yourself
- Learn when it is safe to use a public Wi-Fi network
- Store personal information, including your Social Security card, in a safe place. Do not carry it in your wallet.
What do I do if you experience identity theft?
The Federal Trade Commission has information and links to resources that can help navigate the process to recover from identity theft, on their website link here, Identity Theft | Consumer Advice (ftc.gov). Reporting identity theft to the FTC within two business days of discovering it, individuals will only be liable to pay $50 of any unauthorized use of bank and credit accounts (under federal law). The longer delayed reporting, the more that financial liability falls on an individual’s shoulders.
To report identity theft, contact:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338
- The three major credit reporting agencies. Ask them to place fraud alerts and a credit freeze on your accounts.
- The fraud department at your credit card issuers, bank, and other places where you have accounts
SOURCES: Federal Trade Commission, USA.gov, IdentityTheft.gov