How Identity Theft Strikes

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First, what exactly is identity theft? Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to take over your credit accounts, open new ones, take out a loan, rent an apartment, access bank accounts, or commit many other crimes using your identity.

When it strikes, the effects can be devastating. What's more, because it frequently involves no physical theft, identity theft may not be noticed by its victims until significant damage has been done -- often, several months and thousands of dollars later.

How do Thieves Steal and use your Personal Information?

First, they steal your personal information by...

  • Going through your mail or trash, looking for bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information.
  • Stealing personal information from your wallet or purse such as identification, credit, or bank cards.
  • 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 -- for example, a store employee that gets your information from a credit application or by "skimming" your credit card information when you make a purchase.
  • Getting your personnel records at work.

Then they 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.
  • Buying cars by taking out auto loans in your name.
  • Calling your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, 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.

Monitor 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, subscribe to Equifax Credit Watch™ credit report monitoring service, and get an early alert to new and suspicious activity on your report, identity theft insurance, and access to your credit report.

No Credit Card Is Necessary

Credit card fraud is just one type of identity theft. While a thief may use your information to apply for a new credit card, some types of identity theft don't involve credit cards at all. Someone with a bad credit rating may use your personal information to get a car loan, acquire phone, cellular service, or another utility service, or open a bank account in your name.

Such cases can be seriously damaging, since you may not realize anything is wrong until you notice unfamiliar charges on your monthly bills or statements.

Identity Theft Facts

According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft complaints are broken down as follows:

  • About 50% reported that a credit card was opened in their name
  • 25% reported that the thief established new telephone, cellular, or another service in their name
  • 16% reported that a bank account was opened in their name, or unauthorized withdrawals had been made from their account
  • 9% reported that the thief obtained a loan in their name
  • 8% reported that the thief obtained a fraudulent document such as a driver's license

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