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What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information (your name, Social Security number, bank and credit card account numbers, address) to steal from you or create new accounts in your name without your permission.  Identity theft can ruin your credit.  Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about identity theft.

How do thieves steal identities?
There are many ways thieves steal identities, including:

  • They steal wallets, purses, and briefcases to gain access to your credit cards, driver's license, passport, and other personal documents.
  • They look for personal data by going through your trash.  This is also known as "dumpster diving."
  • They steal your mail, including your bank statements, pre-approved credit card offers, new checks, and tax information.
  • They pose as legitimate companies or government agencies in order to get your personal information.
  • They use personal information that you shared on the Internet.
  • Through an e-mail attachment that you open or download, they could release a virus on your computer.  The virus acts as a spyware program that records what you type and the Web sites you visit and allows the thief to acquire your personal information.
  • They are usually someone you know, such as a roommate, relative or friend because you may share your information with them without knowing they will use it for other purposes.

What do thieves do with stolen personal information?   
Identity thieves commit fraud or theft once they have your personal information.  Some common examples include:

  • They withdraw money from your bank accounts.
  • They open a new credit card account in your name and run up charges.  This can lead to overdue credit card payments appearing on your credit report.
  • They apply for a loan in your name and take the money.  This can lead to overdue loan payments appearing on your credit report
  • They buy a car by taking out an auto loan in your name.
  • They may give your name to the police during an arrest and if you don't show up for the court date, a warrant for arrest can be issued in your name.

Am I a victim of identity theft?
All too often a person's identity has been stolen long before they learn they are a victim of identity theft.  Find out the signs that you may be a victim of identity theft

Can I prevent identity theft?
You can make it harder for thieves to steal your identity.  Learn quick tips

My identity has been stolen.  What should I do?
If you are a victim of identity theft, there are four steps you need to take immediately