What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone fraudulently obtains and uses another person’s personal data for financial or economic gain. Personal information used to steal someone’s identity or access financial resources may include a Social Security number, credit or debit card number, PIN number, bank account number, date of birth, driver’s license number, or passwords.
Identity theft can affect people in many ways, both financially and psychologically. Although the number of identity theft victims is undetermined, a number of sources estimate that approximately 15 million people are affected by identity theft each year, resulting in billions of dollars in total damages.
Types of Identity Theft
Consumers, businesses and organizations have access to a number of resources discussing identity theft and fraud, including websites run by the federal government as well as non-profit organizations and consumer credit reporting agencies.
The most common types of identity theft include:
- Financial Identity Theft – This type of identity theft occurs when a person’s financial information is stolen, such as a credit card or bank account information. Financial identity theft can affect a person’s credit score or their ability to purchase other assets such as a home.
- Criminal Identity Theft – Criminal identity theft occurs when a person commits a crime while posing as someone else. In some cases, a criminal may give another person’s name when questioned by law enforcement.
- Medical Identity Theft – Medical identity theft occurs when a person attempts to receive medical care under the identity of someone else. In addition to financial losses, medical identity theft can affect a person’s medical records, which can be difficult to correct and can lead to additional problems with insurance companies.
- Social Identity Theft – Also known as identity cloning or impersonation, social identity theft occurs when a person conceals their own identity and impersonates another.
- Child Identity Theft – Often used by a family member or friend, a child’s identity may be stolen for personal gain as well. Child identity theft can go undetected for years.
- Tax Identity Theft – This type of identity theft has become more common with the emergence of online tax return software. In most cases, a thief uses a person’s information to file a tax return to receive a refund or apply for a job.
Criminals may steal a person’s identity for any reason, and they may use any type of theft in any combination to commit those crimes. Likewise, a person’s identity could be used in other criminal activities as well.
How Can I Prevent Identity Theft?
The best way to prevent identity theft is to actively monitor and protect your personal information, particularly your Social Security number, credit card and bank account numbers, driver’s license numbers, PIN numbers, passwords, and any other identity information.
To limit access to your credit information, you can also freeze or lock your credit with the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It is also important that you limit the amount of information you share and be careful when sharing it.
What Steps Should I Take If My Identity Is Stolen?
Before you begin the process to recovering your identity, it might help if you can determine what kind of identity theft has occurred. Once you’ve determined where the fraud has occurred, you can then begin to notify those companies, place a fraud alert with the credit reporting agencies, and close out (or freeze) any accounts associated with the potential fraud, including new accounts made in your name. It is also helpful to report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission as well as your local law enforcement agency.
Should I Contact a Lawyer If I Am a Victim of Identity Theft?
Victims of identity theft may also be entitled to receive compensation for any personal information that may have been compromised. As a result, the responsible party may be liable for financial losses. If you have had your identity stolen or have been a victim of identity fraud, you might consider seeking legal counsel from an attorney specializing in identity theft for more information about your rights and remedies.