How Identity Theft Happens
Criminals can easily obtain your personal data without going to the trouble of entering your home:
- They steal wallets and purses containing your identification, credit cards, and bankcards.
- They steal your mail, especially bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, and tax information.
- They complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location.
- They go "dumpster diving," rummaging through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for copies of records that typically bear your name, address, telephone number, and even your birth date and social security number.
- They obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone who may have a legitimate need for, and legal right to, the information.
- In public places, they "shoulder surf," watching from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or credit card number.
- They use personal information you share on the Internet.
- They scam you, often through e-mail, or they go "phishing" by posing as legitimate companies or government agencies you do business with.
- They get your information from your workplace by stealing files from offices where you're a customer, employee, patient, or student; by bribing an employee who has access to your files; or by "hacking" into electronic files.
With enough identifying information, a criminal can take over an individual's identity for a wide range of crimes, including false applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards, and fraudulently obtaining goods or privileges. If the criminal has the bills for all these activities sent to another address, the victim may not become aware of what is happening until substantial damages have occurred, both to the victim's assets and to his/her reputation.