While credit card theft is essentially a form of identity fraud, actually having your entire identity stolen by a thief is a much more serious crime with many long term repercussions. Although there is a great variance in the seriousness of each of these crimes, both happen with shocking regularity and can leave victims sifting through quite a mess when it comes to damages.
How can credit card theft happen to you?
In a nut shell, credit card theft happens when a thief gets a hold of the account information for your credit (or debit) card, uses it to make purchases in your name and leaves you with footing the bill. In many cases, this happens when a thief physically takes the card itself – whether they are expert pickpockets or simply opportunistic criminals who stumble upon your misplaced plastic – then uses the card until it is either maxed out or declined, at which point they are likely to just ditch it.
However, there are a lot of ways for a thief to steal your account information without ever laying hands on your actual credit card. Irresponsible online shopping, for example, or purchasing products through the mail could make your account vulnerable to hackers. While credit monitoring and other programs can warn you to unauthorized purchases, the best protection involves being responsible with your credit card.
Why is identity fraud so serious?
Identity fraud entails much more than just a compromised credit account, as it generally refers to someone completely inhabiting your identity. This includes using your Social Security number to secure employment, take out mortgages in your name and take advantage of all the benefits of your citizenship, making it impossible for you to function in society. While credit card theft could potentially lead to full-on identity theft, losing your identity entirely is a long-term headache that could derail you for decades.