What is identity theft?
Identity theft--also known as ID theft--starts with the theft of personally identifying information such as your name and social security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information.
The thief might use stolen information to:
- open a new credit card account
- get cell phone service
- open a new checking account to obtain blank checks
- use stolen information for immigration or other applications
The Internet has made it easier for an identity thief to use stolen information because transactions can be made without any real verification of someone's identity.
Identity theft is serious. Some victims can resolve their problems quickly, but others spend thousands of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good names and credit records. Some victims may miss job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing, or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, victims may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
How do thieves steal an identity?
Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to get your information, including:
- Dumpster diving: rummaging through trash looking for documents with your personal information
- Skimming: stealing credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card
- Phishing: pretending to be financial institutions and sending spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information
- Changing your address: diverting your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Stealing: wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; new checks; tax information. Also: stealing personnel records or bribing employees who have access to records.
Prevent identity theft
The best way to prevent identity theft is to protect your personal and financial information.
- Never respond to email that asks for your password, social security number, or other confidential information. Reputable organizations will never ask you for this information via email.
- Don't keep all of your identification and financial information in one place
- Never write down your PIN (personal identification numbers) or passwords anywhere
- Never write down your Internet passwords and member ID information, especially if the password and ID leads to a financial site
Payment on the Internet
Never do business with a site unless it has "secure socket layer" protection. The letters https in the URL (web address) in your browser window indicate this level of protection. (A website without this protection will have http--no "s"--at the beginning of its address.)
Be aware that a good hacker can fake an https address. If you are not 100% sure of the website, don't enter your information.
The Federal Trade Commission provides up-to-date information about identity theft: