Identity theft is a form of fraud in which a criminal steals personal information and uses it without the victim’s permission – and usually the victim has no idea until after the crime is committed.1 It usually involves gaining access to a person’s personally identifiable information (PII), like their name, birthdate, social security number, credit card number, medical records, or other forms of personal information. These acts can easily damage credit status, and cost time and money to restore.
Currently, in the United States, identity theft is considered an epidemic and is a very serious crime. It can affect anyone, including children, and it is a crime that can unravel financial standing very quickly. There are several types of identity theft. However, the most common today is financial, medical, criminal, synthetic (identity cloning), and child identity theft – with financial being at the top.
Financial identity theft is when someone uses another’s personal data for financial benefit.2 It can occur in multiple forms such as stealing credit card information, stealing funds from a bank account by stealing a PIN number or bank password, and even the opening of new accounts using a social security number and other data. Unfortunately, this type of theft has become more prevalent since the COVID-19 pandemic, as more and more people had to online shop.3 Hackers can gain access to information from data security breaches or by people who inadvertently reveal more than one should on social networks. The types of information hackers are looking for are:
• Full name, address, and date of birth
• Credit card or bank account numbers
• Car insurance or medical insurance account numbers
• Account recovery answers or security question answers, such as mother’s maiden, model of your first car, high school mascot, etc.
Having this type of information “in-hand” can make it easy for criminals to impersonate, max out credit cards, rent an apartment, or rack up all sorts of debt. The even scarier part, is hackers can still access the social security numbers of the dead. It is imperative to understand how hackers are stealing information. A few ways that they do this are:
• Public Wi-Fi – Public Wi-Fi typically does not encrypt data, meaning that anyone with the Wi-Fi password and a small amount of hacking knowledge can intercept data.
• Dumpster Diving – Many people can rummage through the trash. Some will intentionally go through the garbage looking for paperwork that will give them a glimpse into pertinent information. Shredding it first is a good idea if it needs to be thrown in the garbage.
• Shoulder Surfing – This happens when the ‘thief’ peeks over the shoulder as someone is typing sensitive information into a computer, phone, ATM, or medical documents.
The good news is, there are many ways to protect one’s self from identity theft. For example, setting up account alerts and scanning credit card and bank statements regularly can be beneficial regarding unrecognizable charges. There are also plenty of warning signs to consider to prevent consumers from becoming victims. These warning signs include unexplained withdrawals from a bank account, calls from debt collectors about unknown debts, medical bills for services that were not received, or notifications that personal information has been leaked in a data breach.
All types of identity theft cases cannot be prevented, however finding out sooner rather than later creates a more positive outcome. There are steps that can be taken to recover from identity theft such as, changing passwords for all online accounts and setting up a credit freeze, which restricts access to one’s credit report, preventing thieves from opening a new credit account, at least while the freeze is in place.4 Other steps that can be taken are filing a police report and contacting major credit reporting bureaus such as, TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian as they can help with setting up a fraud alert on credit reports.5
To recap precautions that can be taken to help prevent identity theft and just maintain an overall safer experience within society is:
• Create complex passwords and change them frequently
• Shred important documents and mail that contains PII
• Install firewalls and virus-detection software on qualified devices
• Review credit reports annually
Paysign is dedicated to keeping consumers in the loop regarding the latest trends in identity theft and cyber security. Identity theft attacks happen every day and it is imperative to understand the various types of identity theft, as well as how to stay safe – because all it takes is one mistake to destroy businesses and individuals alike.
2-3. McAfee: 5 Common Types of Identity Theft: https://www.mcafee.com/blogs/privacy-identity-protection/5-common-types-of-identity-theft/
4. Federal Trade Commission Consumer Advice: What To Know About Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-know-about-credit-freezes-fraud-alerts
5. usa.gov: Identity Theft: https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft