Identity Theft for Beginners

Identity theft is a crime in which someone fraudulently obtains and uses someone else’s personal information (like name, date of birth, address, phone number, social security number, driver’s license number, credit card number, bank account number, etc.) to obtain goods or services or obtain identification cards, driver licenses, birth certificates, social security numbers, travel visas and other official government papers.

Identity theft is especially troubling because on average, most victims don’t even know their identity has been stolen until a year after the theft. At that point, the victim can suffer devastating consequences like a ruined credit record, and it can be costly and difficult to repair the damage caused by identity thieves.

How do identity thieves get someone’s personal information? There are lots of ways, but here a few examples:

  • An employee steals files (either paper or electronic) where you are a customer, employee, student or patient – files containing your address, phone number, driver’s license number, social security number, insurance numbers, etc.
  • A dumpster diver rummages through your trash or the trash of a company with which you do business, searching for personal information.
  • Someone steals mail (like your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax info) out of your mailbox before you get home from work.
  • Someone looks over your shoulder and sits near you while you write out a check or make a hotel reservation and memorizes your address, phone number, credit card number, etc.
  • Someone calls you, pretending to be from your credit card company and asks you to verify your account information.

A waiter steals your credit card number when he takes your card to pay for your meal.

  • Your wallet or purse gets stolen and the thief has access to your driver’s license, credit cards, etc.
  • Someone commits identity theft on the internet by stealing your personal information over an unsecured internet connection.

How could you tell if you’ve fallen victim?

  • Any unexplained charges or withdrawals on your bank or credit accounts
  • Not receiving bills, bank statements or other mail on time and when expected
  • Receiving credit cards, and/or card statements on accounts that you did not open
  • Collection calls or letters on accounts you didn’t know about
  • Being contacted by the police about a crime committed in your name
  • Being denied credit for no apparent reason

If any of the above happen to you, take action immediately. Contact the lenders holding the accounts. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and file a report with your local police.