Crime Prevention: Identity Theft

In the course of the day you may write a check at the drugstore, charge tickets to a concert, rent a car, call home on your cell phone, or apply for a credit card. Chances are you don't give these routine transactions a second thought. But others may.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, affecting half a million new victims each year.

Identity theft is the taking of a victim's identity to obtain credit and credit cards from banks and retailers, steal money from a victim's existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, rent an apartment, file for bankruptcy, or obtain a job using the victim's name. Thousands of dollars can be stolen without the victim knowing about it for months or even years.

How Identity Theft Occurs

All an identity thief needs is any combination of your Social Security number, birth date, address, and phone number. This makes it possible to create a fake driver's license and then pose as you in order to apply for credit. The identity thief might put in a change of address with a credit card company so you will not know that someone else is running up charges. Once an identity thief opens one account, opening a second and a third is easier.

Identity thieves can get information about you from doctors, lawyers, schools, health insurance carriers, and other places. They may pick up your discarded personal information, such as utility bills, credit card slips, and bank statements. They may hack into your computer and steal your Social Security or account numbers and credit card information. They may send you an email message asking you to “update” your account information and link you to a bogus website so they can steal your personal information.

How To Prevent Identity Theft

What To Do If You're a Victim

If you're a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that you do the following: