How Can Someone Steal My Identity?

Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your confidential information or to maintain it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may employ a combination of methods to get your personal data. They can get crucial information from companies or other institutions by:

Stealing records or pertinent information while they’re at work Paying an employee who has quick access to these records Hacking these records Conning information out of employees They may steal your mail, including commercial bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and parallel tax information. They may rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or common trash dumps in a corrupt practice known as “dumpster diving.” They may get your credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your report. They may steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the pertinent information in a data storage device in a practice known as “skimming.” They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach the electronic device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card. They may steal your wallet or pocketbook. They may complete a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location. They may steal personal information they find in your home. They may steal personal information from you through e-mail or phone by posing as legitimate companies and alleging that you have trouble with your account. This exercise is known as “phishing” online, or pretexting by phone. 


 What are the effects of identity theft?

Once identity thieves have your confidential information, they improperly exploit it in a variety of ways.

They may call your credit card issuer to change the billing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to a different address, it may be some time before you basically see there’s a problem.


They may open original credit card accounts in your name. When they use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, the past due accounts are reported on your credit report.


They may establish telephone or wireless service in your name.


They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.


They may forge check or credit or debit cards, or authorize mandatory transfers in your name and drain your bank account.


They may file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under your name or to avoid eviction.


They may buy a car by taking out an auto loan in your name.


They may get identification such as a driver’s license issued with their picture, in your name.


They may get a job or file crooked tax returns in your name.


They may give your name to law enforcement during an arrest. If they don’t show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.


How can I tell if I’m a victim of identity theft?

If an identity thief is opening credit accounts in your name, these accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. To find out, order a copy of your credit reports. Once you get your reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain. Check that information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed. Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

Stay alert for other signs of identity theft, like:

o Failing to receive bills or other mail. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. Or sign up for electronic billing to get rid of the paper billing. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.


o Receiving credit cards that you didn’t apply for.


o Being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason.


o Getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you didn’t buy.

What is “pretexting” and what does it have to do with identity theft?

Pretexting is the practice of getting your personal information under false pretenses. Pretexters sell your information to people who may use it to get credit in your name, steal your assets, or to investigate or sue you. Pretexting is against the law.

Pretexters use a variety of tactics to get your personal information. For example, a pretexter may call, claim he’s from a survey firm, and ask you a few questions. When the pretexter has the information he wants, he uses it to call your financial institution. He pretends to be you or someone with authorized access to your account. He might claim that he’s forgotten his checkbook and needs information about his account. In this way, the pretexter may be able to obtain personal information about you such as your Social Security number, bank and credit card account numbers, information in your credit report, and the existence and size of your savings and investment portfolios.

Keep in mind that some information about you may be a matter of public record, such as whether you own a home, pay your real estate taxes, or have ever filed for bankruptcy. It is not pretexting for another person to collect this kind of information.

By law, it’s illegal for anyone to:

o Use false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or documents to get customer information from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a financial institution.


o Use forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents to get customer information from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a financial institution.


o Ask another person to obtain someone else’s customer information using false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or using false, fictitious or fraudulent documents or forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents. 

How long can the effects of identity theft last? 

It’s difficult to predict how long the effects of identity theft may linger. That’s because it depends on many factors including the type of theft, whether the thief sold or passed your information on to other thieves, whether the thief is caught, and problems related to correcting your credit report.

Victims of identity theft should monitor their credit reports and other financial records for several months after they officially recognize the crime. Victims should review their credit reports once every three months in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter. Stay alert for other signs of identity theft.

Don’t delay in correcting your records and contacting all companies that opened fraudulent accounts. The longer the inaccurate information becomes uncorrected, the longer it will take to resolve the problem.

Should I employ a credit monitoring service?

There are assortments of financial services that, for a fee, will monitor your credit reports for activity and alert you to changes to your accounts. Prices and services vary widely. Many of the services only monitor one of the three leading consumer reporting companies. If you’re considering
gning up for a service, make sure you understand what you’re getting before you buy. Also check out the company with your local Better Business Bureau, consumer protection agency and state Attorney General to see if they have any complaints on record.  Several credit repair firms managed by attorneys offer some alternate solutions.