In the new movie Identity Thief, Jason Bateman's character Sandy becomes the victim of fraud at the hands of the conniving but loveable Diana, played by Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy. Diana opens up numerous credit cards using Sandy's identity, allowing her to live it up in Miami at the expense of the real Sandy, who is unwittingly living a peaceful life halfway across the country. By taking advantage of the gender-ambiguous nature of Sandy's name, Diana is able to get away with the fraud, leaving the real Sandy with a mountain of debt and legal troubles.
Truthfully, identity theft happens every day
As hilarious as the premise for the film may be, this is hardly an unrealistic scenario. According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 9 million individuals report becoming victims of identity fraud every year. It is also estimated that thousands of more individuals have become victims of this crime annually without even realizing it.
Not all thieves are criminal geniuses
It isn't hard for an identity thief to get a hold of a victim's personal identification information if they know what they are looking for. McCarthy's character Diana, for example, is hardly a sophisticated or stealthy criminal, as she has no problem flagrantly maxing out credit cards under Sandy's name. Instead, like most identity thieves, she is opportunistic and takes advantage of the chance to steal thousands from an unsuspecting innocent.
Guard your important documents
A Social Security number, for example, is one of the most valuable pieces of information an identity needs to apply for new accounts. This, along with a date of birth and the victim's name, can essentially be used by any individual to open up a credit card without any proof of identification.
Keep documents with this information on them, like passports or licenses, in safe places so that prying eyes won't be able to access them. As well, if the real Sandy had been enrolled in a credit monitoring service, he may have been able to detect the activity taking place in his name earlier and stopped Diana before she left him with a comical amount of debt.