Identity Theft Scams
We get a lot of great e-mail questions from Internet scam victims and the media. We posted some of the questions and answers here for your benefit.
Identity theft is when someone else uses your good name for financial gain, to change their identity, to hide from creditors, to hide from the police, to avoid taxes, and for many other reasons. Identity theft is attempted most often to obtain cash, goods, or services using your good credit rating. Your credit rating literally can be destroyed by a thief who obtains credit in you name and doesn’t pay the bills. It can take months to come to your attention especially if the bills and collections notices are no longer coming to your address. See my Identify Theft webpage for more details.
Your social security number is the most critical personal identifier because it is the key to your credit profile. Next in line of importance is your signature, your full name, current address, date of birth, county of birth, mother’s maiden name, bank account numbers, prior addresses, employment history.
Without giving anything away, they will try to obtain duplicate documents, duplicate credit cards sent to a new address; obtain goods and services at a new address; obtain contracts, financing, leases, loans, mortgages, rentals, employment, bank accounts, etc. in your name. Of course, the crooks will default on all the contracts after maximizing the credit limits, bouncing a box of bank checks, and running up big bills on all services.
Obtaining credit cards is not the only use of an alternate identity. Someone with criminal warrants for their arrest or an illegal immigrant may want to obtain duplicate credentials using your name so they can hide in plain sight. Criminals may use your identity to obtain employment and not pay taxes, obtain telephone, electricity, water, sewer services, but not pay the bills, obtain rental housing and skip out without consequence.
Most people find out when a collection agency tracks them down for past due accounts, a utility cuts off service, bank accounts are drained, or a vehicle is repossessed. By this time, the damage may already be done and the thief has moved on to a new victim. The best way is to check your credit reports at least once a year to see if there are any credit accounts in your name that you did not authorize. To obtain copies of your credit reports, contact all three major US credit reporting agencies. Equifax (888) 532-0179; Experian (800) 311-4769; Trans Union (800) 680-7289 .
Actually, most cases of identity theft stem from people you know who have access to your personal identification documents at home or at work. The Internet is to blame for its share of scams that persuade consumers to unwittingly divulging their private identification and there have been cases of database breaches that have exposed private information, but there is little data to support widespread fraud based on this method. See my webpage on Phishing Scams for more details.
Technically, it is easy to obtain critical identifying information of most citizens because it is stored everywhere in a filing cabinet or in some computer database. Just think about what information your have volunteered to the government, banks, medical offices, your employer, the local utility company, and the video rental store. Fortunately, most criminals are not technically savvy or gutsy enough to commit several more felonies to defraud companies and government agencies to obtain duplicate identification containing their image and signature to complete the process.
Some clever high-tech identity theft thieves will create authentic looking e-mails seemingly sent from legitimate companies alerting you of a security breach. The scammer requests (phishing) that you immediately respond to the e-mail to protect your critical identifiers. Out of ignorance, the victim responds and unwittingly fills out a form supplying the critical identifiers they wished to protect. See my webpage on Phishing Scams.
Yes, if your wallet is loaded with all the necessary critical identifiers and if the thief bears a resemblance to you. After reading this, you should go through you wallet and remove all unnecessary identification and credit cards. You should photocopy the contents of your wallet annually and store the copies in a safe place. You should keep a list of important phone numbers necessary to cancel credit cards and report missing credentials.
Take it very seriously and get on the telephone with the credit reporting agency to begin tracking down details of the unauthorized credit. Sometimes a credit account can be labeled differently than your expect but be entirely legitimate. If you discover fraudulent accounts in you credit reports, you should immediately fill out a fraud affidavit and place a fraud alert on your account. If you know the abuser, report them to the Federal Trade Commission See my webpage on Identity theft for more information.
Sure, it’s possible, but not as likely. The most critical documents in the mail are tax returns, bank statements, pre-approved credit card applications, blank bank checks, and anything containing your name, address, social security number, and date of birth.
It is extremely difficult (seemingly impossible) to change your social security number since so many federal and state official records are tied to it. When I run background checks on people it is common to find several names assigned to the same social security number. In my experience, most of these are because of tax reporting errors during employment and from illegal immigrants simply making up a number that just happens to be yours. Ex-felons have been known to adopt new social security numbers if they are violating parole or have outstanding warrants. One step you can take is to go online to social security administration to obtain information to stop someone from using your social security number. If SSN fraud is suspected, call the SSA Hotline: (800) 772-1213.
For More Information
Identity Theft Scams
Books on Security Management and Liability
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