identity theft prevention

Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data (such as a Social Security number) in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act created a new offense of identity theft, which prohibits “knowingly transfer[ring] or us[ing], without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.” It carries a maximum term of 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense.1

  • The White House has declared identity theft as the fastest growing crime in America.2
  • In today’s digital world, you are more likely to have your identity stolen than your car stolen or your home burglarized.
  • With your full name, birthdate, and Social Security number, a thief can readily complete and file a fraudulent tax return and claim a tax refund in your name, even if you don’t have a refund coming.
  • A child whose identity is stolen may be victimized for years before it’s detected. That’s because children are less likely to have their credit checked until they’re old enough to apply for a job or credit card or to rent an apartment.
  • If there’s a data breach at your doctor’s office, school, or any other business—large or small—that has your personal information, you could be at risk of identity theft.3
  • With enough identifying information about an individual, a criminal can take over that individual’s identity to conduct a wide range of crimes. For example:
    • False applications for loans and credit cards,
    • Fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts,
    • Fraudulent use of telephone calling cards or online accounts, or
    • Obtaining other goods or privileges which the criminal might be denied if they were to use their real name 1
  • In 2017, 16.7 million individuals were victims of identity theft and the lost data amounts to over nearly $17 billion.4
  • There was a victim of identity theft every 2 seconds in 2017.
  • In 2017, over 140 million hours were spent by identity theft victims trying to solve their issues.3
  • Victims spend anywhere from 3 to 5,840 hours repairing the damage caused by having their identities stolen.
  • The average time spent repairing damage from ID theft is 330 hours.
  • 66% of victims’ information is used to open a new credit account
  • Close to 50% of victims have difficulty getting loans or credit because of identity theft.6

List of red flags to be aware of5:

  • Withdrawals from your bank account that you or other authorized users did not make
  • Inquiries from debt collectors about debts you didn’t incur
  • Merchants declining your check
  • Unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
  • Bills for services you didn’t use
  • Not receiving your bills or other mail
  • Notice from the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you’ve earned income from an employer you didn’t work for
  • Secure your Social Security number (SSN). Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary!
  • Enable the security features on mobile devices, especially if you have contacts, banking websites and applications saved.
  • Review your credit card and bank account statements. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.7
  • In public places, criminals may engage in “shoulder surfing”– watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or credit card number – or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit card number over the telephone. Be vigilant, do NOT say personal information out loud in public, wait until you are in the privacy of your residence or inside your vehicle.
  • If you receive applications for “pre-approved” credit cards in the mail, but discard them without tearing up the enclosed materials, criminals may retrieve them and try to activate the cards for their use without your knowledge. Make sure to shred important documents/mail before discarding them into the trash.
  • Many people respond to “spam”– unsolicited E-mail – that promises them some benefit but requests identifying data, without realizing that in many cases, the requester has no intention of keeping his promise and then uses the information to commit fraud. Never reply to spam emails or give personal information out to unknown senders. Identify unusual emails with unknown senders and flag them, do not open them or click on any hyperlinks.1

RESOURCES​