Understanding Identity Theft

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is the practice of stealing someone's personally identifying information and using it to fraudulently obtain goods, property, credit, utility services, employment or government documents or benefits. Personally identifying information can also be used to open new accounts in the victim's name or to take over existing financial accounts. The identity thief can also provide stolen identifying information to law enforcement during a criminal investigation, traffic stop or upon arrest.

Depending on the sophistication of the thief, a consumer may not realize that identity theft has occurred until he or she receives collection notices for unpaid bills, or checks their credit report and sees unauthorized debts and accounts listed.

Identity theft can ruin a victim's credit score and expose the victim to potential legal liability. An identity theft victim faces the risk of being billed for services he or she did not receive. Until disputed debts are resolved, and the victim's credit report is cleared of erroneous entries, the victim can have difficulty finding employment, securing insurance coverage, obtaining credit and securing housing. A victim can even be charged with crimes they did not commit.

Other risks include reputation damage, compromised medical records, and the investment of time and money in clearing one's record.

ANYBODY regardless of race, age or socio-economic background can be a victim!

Major Types of Identity Theft

Identity thieves use stolen personally identifying information to make unauthorized credit card charges and bank withdrawals, apply for and receive utility and phone services, open new lines of credit, and receive government benefits.

A growing problem is medical identity theft. This involves the theft of a consumer's health insurance, Medicare or Social Security number to obtain potentially expensive medical treatment or drugs under the victim's name and, in some instances, bogus insurance payouts.

Warning Signs of Identity Theft

The following are signs that you or a loved one may have been victim of identity theft:

  •   Receipt of bills for purchases you didn't make
  •   Denial of credit for no apparent reason
  •   Failure to receive monthly bank or credit card statements
  •   Listing of inaccurate information on your credit report
  •   Contact by creditors, debt collection agencies and law enforcement
  •   With respect to child identity theft: receipt by your child of credit or credit card offers through the mail.




Last Modified: June 22, 2011