Identity Theft Basics: Common FAQs About Identity Theft

February 14, 2024


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    Identity theft happens when someone unlawfully uses your personal information for their financial gain. With this stolen information, thieves can open fraudulent bank accounts, make purchases, and even apply for loans — all unbeknownst to you.

    What Information Makes Up Your Identity? 

    Your "identity" is made up of a combination of personally identifiable information (PII). This includes your:

    • Full name.
    • Home address.
    • Email address.
    • Driver’s license.
    • Passport number.
    • Phone number.
    • Social Security number (SSN).
    • Credit score.
    • Credit card numbers.
    • Health insurance or Medicare number.
    • Public records.
    • Criminal records.
    • Online accounts (such as your email account or social media profiles).

    If your sensitive information was stolen as a result of a scam such as a phishing attack, or exposed on the Dark Web following a data breach, that means you are the victim of identity theft.

    Identity thieves will commit id theft-related crimes with your stolen information. They may try to use your bank statements, credit cards, credit report, Social Security card, and other forms of your ID to create a synthetic identity, making them virtually untraceable.

    They may even try to steal your health insurance information to commit medical identity theft. And believe it or not, medical identity theft is a growing problem.

    This guide will help you recognize the warning signs of identity theft, and learn how you can protect yourself.

    📚 Related: How To Prevent Identity Theft Online and In Real Life

    What Are The Common Types of Identity Fraud?

    • Credit Fraud (financial identity theft) occurs when someone uses your personal information to take out loans or open new lines of credit in your name. Credit fraud could destroy the reputation that you have built with credit lenders. You can put a credit freeze on your account to prevent future damage from being done, which of course, Identity Guard can help you with. Identity Guard also notifies you with fraud alerts, which may prevent credit theft before it happens.
    • Identity Fraud occurs when someone gains access to your personal information without your knowledge and assumes your identity while attempting to fraudulently use your financial resources to commit fraud. Criminals may try to use your bank account, bank account numbers, debit card, credit card accounts and other financial instruments to commit online fraud with your identity.
    • Tax identity theft occurs when scammers use your PII to fraudulently file taxes under your name and then steal the refund check. Tax identify theft can lead to significant headaches when you try to file your own taxes or apply for government benefits.
    • Medical identity theft occurs when fraudsters steal your protected health information (PHI) and use it to receive care or buy prescription drugs and medical equipment under your name. Medical identity theft is especially dangerous as it can lead to incorrect information being entered onto your medical records. In the worst case scenario, you could receive improper or even life-threatening care due to a scammer using your health information.
    • Child identity theft occurs when criminals steal your child's SSN and use it to open new lines or credit or take out loans. Last year alone, 1.5 million American children had their identities stolen [*].
    • Unemployment / government benefits fraud occurs when scammers claim benefits in your name. This could include unemployment benefits, pandemic relief funds, student loan forgiveness, or even disaster relief.
    • Account takeover fraud (ATO) occurs when cybercriminals take over your online accounts. Scammers target your email, social media accounts, and online bank account. The most common ways that account takeovers happen is through phishing scams or your passwords being leaked during a data breach.

    📚 Related: Executive Phishing: What Is It? How Does It Happen?

    How Do Identity Thieves Steal Your Information?

    • Mail theft. When a criminal rifles through your mail looking for checks, credit card statements, bank account statements, and other valuable financial information.
    • Tax theft. When identity thieves are able to steal your tax return check by filing for taxes with the IRS in your name.
    • Data breaches. When businesses expose customer information, either through hacking or poor security. Many of these events result in people getting their identities stolen from the information that was exposed during the breach.
    • Phishing attacks. When hackers trick you into submitting your personal information, including credit card number, social security number, and account log-in information. This is typically done with emails or text messages that are made to look like they’re coming from a trusted source.

    📚 Related: Do You Really Need Identity Theft Protection?

    How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

    Use strong passwords

    This is one of the simplest, yet most effective steps you can take to limit your exposure to identity theft, especially through data breaches.

    Go paperless

    Another simple, yet effective step you can take to reduce the risk of mail theft and change of address fraud. The more services you can elect paperless for, the better off you'll be.

    Watch your back when making ATM withdrawals

    Believe it or not, there's an identity theft technique known as "shoulder surfing" where criminals lurk over your shoulder as you're entering your ATM pin code, or logging into your online banking app on your smartphone.

    Avoid spam websites

    Watch out for copycat websites that try to imitate well known brands. They usually have typos and branding errors, and are hosted on HTTP URLs instead of secure URLs.

    These are often the types of sites that can infect your devices with malware and viruses. It's common to see these kinds of imitation websites popping up during holiday shopping season, like over Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

    Notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

    It's best practice to file a police report and submit a complaint to the FTC via to get the process started. But as you'll learn, this is not nearly enough to provide full peace of mind.

    Enroll in credit monitoring

    Credit monitoring allows you to keep a watchful eye on your credit file, and alerts you to any changes such as drastic changes to your credit score or requests to open new accounts.

    While credit monitoring can’t prevent credit fraud, it can help limit the damage that a criminal can do to your financial reputation.

    Identity Guard monitors your data across all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) and can help you obtain a free credit report, or you can go to

    Consider signing up for identity theft protection

    If you’re tired of worrying about when the next big data breach might expose your sensitive data, consider enrolling in one of the best identity theft protection plans available.

    Identity Guard plans include an identity theft insurance plan that may offer reimbursement for eligible financial losses that occur as a result of identity theft.

    If you’re looking for a safe place, this is where you should start. Identity Guard is one of the top alternatives to many of the most well known identity theft protection services.

    Sign up for Identity Guard and save 33% on your membership today.

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers