To figure out how to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft, you need to know what identity theft is and when you might be vulnerable to it.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to take over your credit accounts, open new credit accounts, take out a loan, rent an apartment, access bank accounts, or commit crimes using your identity.
When identity theft strikes, the effects can be devastating. What’s more, because it frequently involves no physical theft, victims of identity theft may not notice it has occurred until significant damage has been done—often, several months and thousands of dollars later.
Identity thieves steal your personal information by:
- Going through your mail or trash and looking for bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information.
- Stealing personal information like identification, credit cards, and bank cards from your wallet or purse.
- Completing change-of-address forms to redirect your mail.
- Obtaining your credit report by posing as a landlord or someone else who has a lawful right to the information.
- Acquiring personal information you share on unsecured sites on the Internet.
- Buying personal information about you from an inside source, such as a store employee that accesses your information from a credit application or by “skimming” your credit card information when you make a purchase.
- Getting your personnel records at work.
Identity thieves use your personal information by:
- Opening new credit card accounts using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquency is reported on your credit report.
- Establishing phone or cellular service in your name.
- Opening a bank account in your name and writing bad checks on the account.
- Counterfeiting checks or debit cards, and draining your bank account.
- Taking out loans in your name.
- Calling your credit card issuer and changing the address on the account. Bills get sent to the new address, so you don’t realize there’s a problem until you check your credit report.
- Filing for bankruptcy using your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under your name.
Prevent identity theft by monitoring your credit report closely
Unless you check your credit report frequently, there’s often no way to tell if identity thieves have used your personal information to obtain credit accounts or other services in your name.
To help protect yourself from identity theft, subscribe to a credit report monitoring service. With credit monitoring, you’ll get an early alert to new and suspicious activity on your report as well as identity theft insurance and access to your credit report.