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What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, credit card number or bank account numbers without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. This may potentially damage your credit record and good name in the process.

How do Identity Thieves get Personal Information?

  • Stealing your mail, wallet or purse, or personal information found in your house.
  • Rummaging through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it in a practice known as “dumpster diving”.
  • Getting your credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to them, or by posing as someone who may have legal access to your report.
  • Attaching a skimming device to an ATM machine or other card processing device where you swipe your card.
  • Completing a “change of address” form with a creditor to divert your billing statement to another location.
  • Stealing personal information from you through email or phone by posing as legitimate companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. Done online, this practice is known as “Phishing”; on the phone it’s known as “Pretexting”.

How do Identity Thieves Use Personal Information?

  • Open new credit cards accounts in your name. When they use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.
  • Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • Create counterfeit checks or credit or debit cards, or authorize electronic transfers in your name, to drain your bank account.
  • Take out loans in your name.
  • Get identification such as a driver’s license in your name, with their picture.
  • Get a job or file fraudulent tax returns in your name.
  • Give your name to the police during an arrest. When they don’t show up for court, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.

While there are no guarantees about avoiding identity theft, it’s important for you to know how to: DETER identity thieves, by safeguarding your personal information; DETECT suspicious activity, by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements; and DEFEND against identity theft as soon as you suspect a problem.