Although we've become increasingly reliant on smartphones, the internet, and credit cards, we have not necessarily become better at protecting our personal data online.
This makes us easy targets for hackers and others who use a variety of tactics to steal our personal information.
Of course, not all hacks are because of our own negligence. Large companies like Target and Marriott have found themselves victims of data breaches too.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take. We put together this comprehensive guide to resources to help you understand the types of information that is stolen and what you can do about it.
How ID Theft occurs
Identity thieves steal information through both the Internet and the physical world. Some tactics they use are:
- An electronic device designed to copy and store information is used to steal the data from magnetic strips found in personal items like:
- Debit or credit cards
- Driver's license
- Software that allows thieves to access usernames, passwords, email, and online purchases. It can look like many different things to the victim, including:
- Screen savers
- Website link
- Video or music downloads
- Web browser update
- Anti-virus update
- Pick-pocketing, robbing, mugging, or otherwise finding a lost item and keeping it. Valuable items often stolen by ID thieves include:
- wallets and billfolds
- debit and credit cards
- Social Security card
- bills from the trash
- Stands for a combination of "fishing" for information and "hooking" the victim. Fake requests for personal information, using the following techniques:
- Legitimate looking (but fake) websites
- Fake email messages luring victims to submit personal information
Signs of Identity Theft
Specific signs of identity theft include:
- The IRS tells you multiple tax returns were filed with your name
- Health insurance denies you coverage
- Unexplainable bank account activity and withdrawals
- Credit report accounts that aren't yours
- Medical bills for procedures you never had
- Collections calls on debts that don't belong to you
- Errors on your credit card statements
- Missing bills or paper mail, or suspicious mail
- Social Security statement inaccuracies
- Suspicious email and phishing
- Your email logininformation was changed
Thieves use Social Security numbers to obtain employment or steal a victim's tax refund.
- Social Security fraud
- Fraudulent employment
- Stolen tax refund
Thieves open new or misuse current bank accounts.
- Bank accounts hacked
- Fraudulent withdrawals
- Credit cards stolen
- Pin numbers changed
Id Theft Complaints Per Bank Sector & Sub-Type
Thieves open accounts in the victim's name.
- Cell phone accounts
- Gas, electric accounts
- Cable & internet services
Child and Medical ID Theft in US
Thief uses child's identity fraudulently.
- Student loans
- Child's SSN
Thieves use victim's insurance information to obtain medical care.
- Hospital Visits
Thief obtains and uses or sells victim's federally issued document.
- Birth certificates
- Driver's licenses
Fraudulent activity on online accounts.
- Email account hacked
- Account user added (Ebay, Amazon, etc.)
- Username & Passwords changed
Miscellaneous types of identity theft.
- Life Insurance fraud
- Automobile Insurance fraud
- Employment fraud
How To Take Action In Case Of ID Theft
ID Theft Complaints per Bank Sector & Sub-type
2008 – 2012
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a government-run consumer protection agency working throughout the U.S. to detect and prevent identity theft, fraud, and other deceptive business activity. The FTC official website is a go-to for ID theft related information, including the immediate steps to take when you suspect you've been a victim of ID theft:
- Place fraud alert
- File a complaint and a police report
- Close Accounts
- Order Your Free Credit Report
- Create an ID Theft Report
While doing all these things, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that consumers keep track of their progress with carefully logged phone calls, certified stubs on mail, and official documentation.
Specific Resources and Helpful Guides from the FTC:
- Taking Charge: What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen —April 2013
- Protect Military Personnel from Identity Theft by Placing ‘Active Duty' Alerts —July 2012
- Don't Get Hooked by a Phishing Scam —June 2005
- Steps to Take if Your Personal Information Has Been Compromised —March 2005
- Fraud and Identity Theft Trends on the National and State level—from January 2003 – December 2009
- Fixing & Undoing the Effects of Identity Theft
- How to Keep your Personal Information Secure
- When Bad Things Happen To Your good Name—September 2003
- Privacy Choices for Your Personal Financial Information —September 2012
- Financial Crimes Network
- Top Ten Consumer Complaint Categories for 2012
Step By Step Guidelines to Resolving Specific ID Theft Issues
- Dispute Errors with Credit Reporting Companies;
- Report Errors to the Credit Reporting Companies;
- Report Errors to Businesses and follow-up
- Get Copies of the Documents which the Identity Thief Used
- Get Debt Collectors to Stop Calling Wrongfully
- Sample letters and forms
- ID Theft Victim's Complaint& Affidavit Form
- Sample ID Theft Dispute Letters
- Ask a Business to Remove Fraudulent Charges from your Account;
- Annual Credit Report Request Form
How To Avoid Identity Theft
Take or play one of the many online quizzes and games about identity theft to brush up on your knowledge and potentially learn some valuable information.
- Consumer Action ID Theft Quiz
- US Department of Justice Quiz
- OnGuardOnline's ID Theft Face Off Game and their Invasion of the Wireless Hackers Game and their Phishing Scams Game
- TD Bank's Quiz
- How Stuff Works ID Theft Challenge Quiz
- Federal Trade Commission's Beware of Spyware Game
- University of Oklahoma Police Dept. Identity Fraud Quiz
Preventative measures to reduce the risk of ID theft:
- Review credit reports regularly; you get one free every year from each of the three major credit bureaus.
- Review explanations of medical benefits
- Respond quickly to notices from the IRS—but watch out for IRS impersonators
- Check your bank accounts every couple of days
Protect your personal information by doing the following:
- Don't give out personal information over the phone if your bank, credit card company, or government agency calls requesting sensitive information; hang up on the caller, then call back to verify the validity.
- Be aware of "phony jobs" advertising a work-from-home position, which thieves have made up to obtain secure information from potential "new hires."
- Don't swipe your credit or debit card anywhere that the machine looks tampered with or suspicious.
- Shred all personal documents and credit card offers—don't simply throw them in the trash.
- Don't put sensitive information into an email.
Protect your computer from cyberspace identity thieves:
- Don't click links or pop-ups from unknown senders
- Keep passwords private and use combinations that nobody could guess.
- Update anti-virus & spyware protection on your computer
- Don't respond to "urgent emails" from your financial institution until verifying with them directly—ESPECIALLY don't give out personal information
Federal resources, organizations and laws
- Federal Trade Commission
- US Department of Justice
- Privacy Matters
- Fight Identity Theft
- Department of Education
- Department of Homeland Security
- Federal Bureau of Investigations for Cyber, Email Scams and Internet Crimes
- President's Identity Theft Task Force
- Secret Service
- Social Security Administration
Department of the Treasury
The U.S. Department of the Treasury's role as stated on the official website is to act as the steward of the U.S. economic and financial systems. As such, they can act as a resource when victims' identities are stolen and finances are affected.
Department of Justice
The U.S. Department of Justice's role is to uphold and enforce the law, and to ensure public safety against domestic threats. It also acts as a leader in preventing and controlling crime. By the very nature of its definition, the Dept. of Justice is here to serve the U.S. victims of the crime of identity theft. See below for the U.S. Dept. of Justice's resource pages:
- Criminal Division, Fraud Section
- Identity Theft and Identity Fraud Information
- Report Fraud
- Identity-Related Crime Reports
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
The FDIC is a Congress-designed independent agency responsible for upholding and promoting U.S. citizen confidence in our financial system. Identity theft is their responsibility when it comes to breaks and holes in the financial system of a victim. See below for the FDIC's resources:
- When a Criminal's Cover is Your Identity
- FDIC Consumer Alerts About The Following:
- Phishing Scams
- Identity Theft
- Check Clearing for the 21st Century
- Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act
- Privacy Act Issues under Gramm-Leach-Bliley.
As issuers of United States Social Security cards to citizens, it is the responsibility of the Social Security Administration to provide hotline numbers, Social Security card replacement, information on reclaiming identity, and other advice to victims of identity theft who have had their Social Security cards stolen or hacked. See below for helpful resources from the SSA:
- Steps to take if your identity has been stolen through a Social Security number
- Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number
- Information on Identity Theft of a Social Security or Medicare Card
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
It is the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's job to protect U.S. citizens' mail from criminal activity and other types of misuse, and so are also intricately involved with fighting back against identity theft.
- Identity Theft – Stealing your name and your money
- Report on how to "Safeguard Your Personal Information" by the US Postal Inspection Service
- File a mail-misuse complaint with the US Postal Inspection Service
- Fraud and Prevention videos from the US Postal Inspection Service
- US Postal Inspection Service's Advice on How to Protect Against Mail Thieves
United States Federal Laws Serving Citizens to Prevent, Detect, and Recover from Identity Theft
Federal Identity Theft Laws:
- The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998
- Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act of 2004
- Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003
- Fair Debt Collections Practices Act of 1996
- Identity Theft Consumer Notification Act of 2003
- Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2011
Federal Credit Laws:
- About the Consumer Credit Protection Act
- Actual Consumer Credit Protection Act
- Fair Credit Reporting Act of 2011
- Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 2011
- Electronic Funds Transfer Act of 2010