For example, a thief could use your Social Security number but present a fake name, birth date and address to lenders, so that all of the mail meant for you is actually directed to the criminal. Essentially, the criminal creates an entirely new person based off of one piece of data they have about you. They then use this persona to apply for jobs and build credit. When they are granted larger lines of credit, they spend this money with no intent to pay it back — leaving the debt in your name.
One analytics officer told Tom’s Guide that he estimates that 2 percent of all credit card and cell phone account applications are cases of synthetic identity theft.
Additionally, if a fraudster is using both your Social Security number and your actual name, then their criminal activities will be much more likely to show up on your credit report, making it easier for you to detect the theft. However, synthetic identity theft allows them more time before being discovered. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains that the sooner you find out you have become a victim of id theft, the faster you can clean fraudulent charges from your credit history.
With synthetic identity theft, “it takes longer to find out you’ve been victimized, making it harder for you to clear your name,” according to the FTC.
However, officials at the FTC also point out that “when (the criminals) run up thousands of dollars of debt and disappear, the creditors will eventually back track to you.”
Eventually, you’ll discover if you’ve been the victim of identity theft. Still, you shouldn’t dismiss a warning sign just because all of the information you see doesn’t apply to you, because thieves might have done this intentionally.
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to stay on the lookout for warning signs that might suggest you have become a victim. For instance, receiving mail addressed to a different person at your address could tell you that an identity thief is trying to create a new persona. For optimal security, check your credit report annually and search it for any unusual activity.
Some identity theft protection services will also monitor new credit applications applied for in your name and send you alerts when those are detected. This can be especially valuable as a way to spot identity theft in its earliest stages. Even the simplest precautions can help add to your security, like changing your online passwords and regularly checking your bank account statements for foreign purchases.
Completely preventing identity theft may not be possible, but it’s definitely worth your time to take steps toward keeping your most valuable information safe.