Identity Theft - The Basics
WHERE IT BEGINS
Identity theft has one basic component that has to be satisfied before the crime can take place - procurement of the potential victim's personal data. How can that data be obtained? Easily:
Dumpster Diving - someone sifts through the trash you threw out in search of bank account statements, credit card receipts, personal correspondence, checks, pre-screened credit card offers, etc.
Criminal Theft - your purse, containing credit cards, Social Security Card, a check book and other items carrying personal data is stolen.
Third Party Security Breach - a government laptop goes missing; a bill payer system gets hacked; a scorned employee releases personal data of customers, etc.
Computer Security Breach - a trojan horse is installed (either locally or remotely) on your personal or work computer; you click on a link that leads you to a website that only appears to be the one of the bank you do business at, where you input your username and password as well as other data.
Social Engineering - you provide your personal data over the phone to a person who claims to be calling from your bank's fraud department; you are offered a vacation prize or a chance to purchase a cheap time share in exchange for your personal data; you receive a call advising you that your loved one is in a hospital and their data is needed to proceed with treatment.
Business Fraud - a waiter copies information from your credit card while you're waiting for the receipt; a store employee takes down information from the personal check you just paid with.
Advance Fee Fraud - you provide personal information and copies of identifying documents to someone who is pretending to have engaged in a business relationship with you, someone who told you that you are a beneficiary of a will, someone who claims to be representing a lottery, or maybe someone whom you're dating online.
Online Presence - you post your personal information such as full name, address and\or phone number on your blog, social networking profile or website.
HOW IT PROGRESSES
Once the thief is in possession of your personal information, the game is on. Here's a few things an identity thief can do with your personal data:
Take over your existing credit cards and other financial accounts.
Open new credit card accounts.
Open instant store credit accounts.
Open new bank accounts.
Use your government issued ID to identify themselves.
Have a forged (your data, their picture) ID made and use that for identification.
Sell your data to someone else.
Redirect your mail to an address of their choice.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES
Let's examine the consequences of having had your identity assumed by someone else:
Financial losses - The thief making away with your money and credit is just the beginning of financial losses. The costs of registered mail letters, stamps and long distance phone calls quickly start adding up. Some victims find themselves in need of securing legal counsel - fees for that can quickly go into thousands of dollars. Many victims, busy with clearing their name, are forced to take unpaid leave from work to deal with the situation.
Emotional distress - ID Theft is an emotionally impactive crime. Many victims report that they feel as if their whole existence has been taken away from them.
Criminal Law issues - Criminal ID Theft occurrs when the person who assumed your identity uses it when dealing with Law Enforcement. If the thief is arrested on an unrelated charge and provides your identity instead of theirs, the charge will in effect end up on your record. It is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to get the record of criminal charges straightened out - as a result, some victims of ID Theft live in a constant fear of being arrested for a crime they did not commit, but which is still present on their record.
Time investment - Clearing your name is extraordinarily time consuming. It requires tight recordkeeping, as well as large amounts of letters to document your case and identify fraudulent records. Many victims of ID Theft report that trying to clear their name has become a full time job to them.
Civil Law issues - You may find yourself a respondent in a debt collection lawsuit for a debt that the thief incurred but which is still linked to your name.
Debt collection issues - You may face debt collections calls and letters. Some unscrupulous debt collectors will contact you even though they are fully aware that you are a victim of ID Theft.
Identity Theft is a crime de jour. Make sure you are aware of how it can start, how it goes on and where it ends.