What Is Identity Theft

Identity theft happens when someone acquires key pieces of someone else's identifying information in order to impersonate them. Identifying information may include their name, address, date of birth, social security number, their mother's maiden name, and their signature. The thief is then able to use this information to commit fraud such as taking over their financial accounts, opening new bank accounts, purchasing vehicles, applying for loans, credit cards, and social security benefits, renting apartments and ordering services with utility and telephone companies, all in the name of the personal from whom the identifying information was obtained.


Perpetrators of identity theft can be strangers, acquaintances, or family members. Identifying information can be obtained indirectly by hacking into bank and credit card web sites and databases. Checking your account statements for fraudulent expenses each month and login into your online accounts weekly can keep you apprised of unauthorized activity.

Trash Pickers

Identifying information can be obtained directly by picking through someone's trash. Credit card applications that are thrown away can be filled out and mailed by trash pickers, who then return to retrieve the credit card before you arrive home to check your mail. Boxes of new checks mailed to you by your banking institution can be picked up and used before you notice that they are missing. What else arrives in your mail or goes into your trash that contains your full name, address, signature, and date of birth? A shredder and a large, locking mailbox can help deter trash picker type thieves.

Storage Devices

Employees of stores, restaurants, and/or other establishments can use a special storage device to steal your credit/debit card number electronically and use that information later to purchase items fraudulently.

Change of Address

Thieves sometimes complete a "change of address" form so that a particular bill goes to another address. Keep track of when your credit card bills and bank statements are due each month. Call the appropriate company or institution if you notice a bill has not arrived on schedule.

FICO Credit Score

Identity theft can lower your FICO credit score, causing you to be unable to obtain legitimate loans, insurance, and credit cards, or to be forced to pay much higher rates for these services.

Preventing Identity Theft

Preventing identity theft can be as simple as shredder document or being selective when giving out your personal information. Visit our "Preventing Identity Theft," email "Phishing Fraud Warnings," and "Online Shopping Safety Tips" pages for on these subjects.

If You Are a Victim

If you find yourself a victim of identity theft, contact the agencies listed on the "Identity Theft Victim ToDo List" page and use the sample form on the "Sample Victim Form Letter" page.

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