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ID Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or other identifying information to commit fraud or other crimes.

The Department of Justice says, "With enough identifying information about an individual, a criminal can take over that individual's identity to conduct a wide range of crimes: for example, false applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards, or obtaining other goods or privileges which the criminal might be denied if he were to use his real name. If the criminal takes steps to ensure that bills for the falsely obtained credit cards, or bank statements showing the unauthorized withdrawals, are sent to an address other than the victim's, the victim may not become aware of what is happening until the criminal has already inflicted substantial damage on the victim's assets, credit, and reputation."

Criminals have been known to use a variety of methods to get hold of information, including:

  1. Phishing or SMishing. Tricking people into revealing personal information via spam, texts (SMS), or pop-up messages.
  2. Dumpster Diving. Some criminals go through your garbage cans to obtain copies of your checks, credit card or bank statements, or other records.
  3. Skimming. Processing your credit card with a special storage device that steals your numbers.
  4. Changing a Victim’s Address. Diverting your mail to a location other than your home or office.
  5. Old-Fashioned Stealing. Thieves grab purses, wallets, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, tax information, personnel records, and new checks.
  6. Shoulder Surfing. Criminals may watch or listen as you punch numbers into a public phone or voice your credit card number to a business you are calling.

From the Federal Trade Commission:
What are the signs of identity theft?

Stay alert for the signs of identity theft, like:

  • accounts you didn't open and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
  • fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports, including accounts and personal information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers.
  • failing to receive bills or other mail. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
  • receiving credit cards that you didn't apply for.
  • being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason.
  • getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn't buy.