What is identity theft?
Identify theft, also known as identity fraud, is the fraudulent use of someone else’s personal information. Personal information includes, but is not limited to, full name, social security number, birthdate, address, driver’s license number, bank account number, credit card number — really any information intended for use by only one person, or any combination of that information. ID thieves typically use personal information for monetary gain, but a stolen identity could also be used to escape their actual identity or to qualify for specific benefits like health care and employment authorization.
How does ID theft happen?
Identity theft is often the result of an online data breach, hack or scam where information is gleaned from a personal device or a company’s servers. But identity theft is not strictly an online risk. For example, credit and debit cards can be “skimmed” when you use them in real-world brick and mortar locations. Skimmers are small electronic devices that take an image of the card. They can be manually operated (perhaps by a predatory employee) or installed undetected into machines like ATMs or gas pumps. Identity thieves also retrieve information through stealing documents, typically from someone they know. In fact, so-called “friendly fraud” is on the rise. Identity fraud incidents where the victim and the perpetrator knew one another doubled in 2018.
Warning signs of identity theft
If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, you need to respond quickly! The sooner you take action, the sooner your accounts can be secured and restored to their previous status. Spring into action if you see any of the following warning signs. Remember, since your identity can be stolen and used in many different ways, the crime doesn’t always manifest the same way.
Suspicious activity on your bank or credit card accounts
Unauthorized charges are a dead giveaway that someone else has access to your account, and by extension, your money. Keep an eye on your statements and make sure you can verify every purchase, even the small ones. Fraudsters often make a smaller test purchase ahead of a larger spree in order to see what they can get away with.
Mail or notifications regarding accounts you didn’t open
Beyond cleaning out the accounts you already have, identity thieves may also create new accounts in your name. Suddenly receiving bills or collection notices for an account you didn’t open is a definite problem.
Unverified activity on your credit report
Your credit report outlines your accounts and inquiries from lenders. Regularly inspect your credit report for any unknown new tradelines (credit accounts) or voluntary inquiries from lenders that you did not request. Be aware that identity fraud might not change your overall credit score right away.
Unexpected IRS communication regarding tax return, transcript or refund
If someone else is using your social security number, you’ll eventually see evidence from the IRS. You might receive a notice that you’ve already filed your tax returns when you haven’t, see incorrect information about your place of employment listed on your returns or receive a return or transcript that you did not request.
False medical charges or health insurance claims
Criminals may use stolen identities to obtain medical care. If you receive bills or collection notices for medical procedures, or if your health insurance company issues an incorrect notice that your spending limit has been met or specifies a condition that you don’t have, you might be the victim of medical ID theft.
An alert that your data has been breached
In the event of a big data breach, you will likely receive a message directly from the retailer, bank or other organization that experienced the breach. Take these alerts seriously – they wouldn’t give their customers a scare unless the threat was well founded.
What to do if your identity gets stolen
How to protect yourself from future identity theft
In a best case scenario, ID theft presents a huge headache for anybody trying to re-establish the security of their personal information. At its worst, it entails significant out-of-pocket expenses and negative repercussions on financial and personal matters that take years to overcome. Stay vigilant and protected in the future by taking the following measures:
Monitor your credit reports and bank accounts.
Unauthorized charges, suspicious activity and unverified credit requests are all immediate calls to action. All of the major credit bureaus allow you to periodically check your credit report for free. Subscribing to a credit monitoring service via your bank or another financial institution is also an option for more hands-on monitoring.
Practice safe document handling & don’t ignore your mail
Shred documents with personal information. Keep sensitive documents locked up. Junk mail is not always harmless. Keep an eye out for suspicious messages, unexpected billing statements and/or mysterious requests and confirmation messages.
Opt into all-in-one ID theft protection.
Staying vigilant prevents the worst parts of a stolen identity, but the warning signs can be subtle and hard to track. ADT’s Identity Theft Protection combines a spectrum of monitoring, reporting and resolution services into one monthly service package, to automatically keep tabs on your identity and organize the details in one space.