Identity Theft Examples: 7 Common Ways Criminals Target You

October 16, 2023


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    1. Examples of Synthetic Identity Theft

    Synthetic identity theft occurs when a thief pairs a legitimate Social Security number with fake personal information, such as a name, birth date, and address. The thief then uses this synthetic identity to apply for a credit card.

    Because a synthetic identity doesn't have a credit file, the credit card application will be denied. However, the record of this application denial will create an imprint of this synthetic identity, beginning to give it new life and feasibility.

    From there, thieves will add the synthetic identity as an authorized user on other credit cards and begin to build their credit file that way. Once the synthetic identity has a reputable credit file and a good enough credit score, the thief will apply for several credit cards, be approved, and run up a bill.

    That bill won't get paid. Then, it's on to the next synthetic identity.

    When you see identity theft being portrayed in movies and television, a character might be jetting off on international travel using a fake name or financing their lavish lifestyle with credit cards that were opened using stolen information — that’s an example of synthetic identity theft.

    This type of identity theft is certainly a long con that takes some coordination and effort, but successful synthetic identity theft can be extremely lucrative for a criminal.

    ⛳️ Related: What Information Do Cyber Criminals Steal?

    2. Examples of Medical Identity Theft

    When you think of "sensitive" information that a thief might want to get their hands on, your healthcare information doesn't usually make the list. However, medical identity theft is a prevalent (and quickly growing) crime.

    Medical identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number (SSN), Medicare number, or health insurance information, and uses it to procure medical services or file fraudulent claims with your insurer. Fraudsters can use your health insurance information to see a doctor and obtain prescriptions.

    Medical information can be stolen by a stranger, but it can also be stolen by a doctor. Unfortunately, there are several examples of medical identity theft that involve doctors or doctor’s office employees stealing healthcare information and committing fraud.

    Medical identity theft can disrupt your health care coverage and is often difficult to detect. Pay close attention to the mail you receive, and don't disregard medical and insurance statements. Try to give them a cursory glance before throwing them away, just to make sure that you recognize the care that you're being billed for.

    ⛳️ Related: Can Someone Steal Your Identity With Just Your Name and Date of Birth?

    3. Examples of Child Identity Theft

    Children, specifically minors, typically have no credit history. Identity thieves see this "blank slate" as an opportunity, making children a prime target to become victims of identity theft.

    A subset of synthetic identity theft, child identity theft occurs when a criminal uses a minor's Social Security number to open lines of credit, apply for government benefits, apply for loans or utility services, or rent a place to live.

    Unfortunately, no child is too young to be excluded from the victim pool, and the consequences of this type of identity theft can stay with them for their entire lives.

    And people stealing children’s identities stand to make a lot of money off of them. In 2019, an identity fraud ring of eight people was exposed — together, they had made up to $420,000 worth of fraudulent purchases using children’s Social Security numbers that they had stolen [*].

    More often than not, the perpetrator of child identity theft is familiar with the victim and had the opportunity to gain access to their personal information.

    Identity theft is a crime that is depicted as primarily affecting adults. Because of this, we're not always proactive in protecting our children from it.

    Before giving out a child's sensitive information, be sure to ask what the information is being used for, how it will be handled, and how it will be disposed of or stored. Additionally, be sure to take steps to secure the sensitive documents in your home.

    ⛳️ Related: What To Do If You're Getting Spam Calls From Your Contacts

    4. Examples of Tax Identity Theft

    Your Social Security number is the key to many things, including your tax return. When someone uses your Social Security number to file your tax refund or apply for a job, it's tax identity theft.

    This can lead to trouble with the IRS, with repercussions including being denied your tax refund or being flagged for not reporting all earned wages.

    If an identity thief uses your Social Security number to file a tax return before you do, they can claim a refund. Then when you go to file your legitimate tax return, the refund that's rightfully yours will be denied.

    In one example of tax identity theft, an identity thief was found to have used over 200 different stolen identities to file tax refunds, resulting in over $200,000 in tax returns [*].

    Alternatively, if someone uses your stolen Social Security number to apply for and work a job, you may file your taxes normally and the IRS, seeing that there is more income under your Social Security number than what has been reported, will flag you for not reporting all earned wages and tax fraud.

    This one is a double whammy: you become a victim of tax fraud and may be accused of tax fraud all at the same time.

    Tax identity theft can be hard to detect. When you can, file your taxes early and regularly review your credit reports.

    5. Examples of Criminal Identity Theft

    Criminal identity theft might sound a little confusing because, indeed, all types of identity theft are criminal acts. However, "criminal" in this sense implies that stolen information was used to implicate an identity theft victim in a crime. This, like all other types of identity theft, is criminal. So this is criminal criminal identity theft.

    Ok, we'll stop saying the word criminal now.

    When someone possesses stolen information such as a name, date of birth, address, or driver's license, they can provide that information to police when arrested or pulled over. Doing so implicates the victim, an innocent person, in the thief's crime.

    Examples of this type of identity theft are most typically committed when someone is pulled over for a traffic stop or speeding violation. All the thief needs to do is pass a stolen driver’s license to the officer pulling them over and, if the officer believes it’s their real ID, the ticket will be written under your name.

    ⛳️ Related: What Happens If You Answer a Spam Call

    6. Examples of Mail Identity Theft

    This is one of the simplest ways that identity thieves and fraudsters can get their hands on your personal information. And while stealing and opening someone else's mail is a felony, if someone's looking to commit identity theft, they typically don't care.

    In an act known as dumpster diving, identity thieves will rifle through mail looking for cash or checks, pre-approved credit card offers, and personal information. Around tax season, when W-2's are being mailed to people's homes, mail identity theft becomes particularly common.

    However, it's not just your Social Security number that's valuable. If a thief is experienced enough, any piece of seemingly plain personal information can make them money when leveraged properly.

    It's important to check your mail daily. If you're traveling, have someone you trust stop by and pick it up for you. Mail sitting in a mailbox, especially overnight, is more likely to make its way into the wrong hands.

    ⛳️ Related: Is Home Title Theft Real? 5 Ways To Protect Yourself

    7. Examples of Account Takeover Fraud (ATO)

    Nowadays, criminals are less interested in your SSN than they are your online accounts. Why's that? In most cases, online accounts give them easier access to your financial accounts, other passwords, or give them the opportunity to scam your friends, family, and contacts.

    For example, if someone hacks your email account they could potentially:

    • Request password resets for your other accounts — including your online bank account or social media accounts.
    • Send phishing scam emails to your friends and family.
    • Steal your identity and lock you out of your other online accounts.
    • Gain access to your business email account and scam your work.
    • Find and extort you with sensitive messages or photos.

    Keeping your accounts safe from hackers is a huge part of protecting yourself from identity theft.

    ⛳️ Related: How To Protect Yourself from Account Takeover Fraud (ATO)

    Beware Of These Warning Signs of Identity Theft

    Because fraudsters are always looking to invent new ways to steal personal information, there seems to be an ever-evolving list of ways that your identity could be stolen. In addition to the examples of identity theft mentioned above, you should be on the lookout for the warning signs of identity theft, including:

    • Strange accounts, wrong information, or unfamiliar hard inquiries on your credit report.
    • Suspicious activity on your bank and credit card statements.
    • Missing your wallet, purse, or bag (that contains your ID and other personally identifiable information).
    • Unexpected physical mail — such as statements for accounts or credit cards you don't remember opening.
    • Missing mail or signs that someone has been rifling through your mailbox and trash.
    • A rise in spam and scam calls, texts, and emails. Scammers often re-target people who've had their identity stolen.
    • Unrequested 2FA codes or password reset emails.
    • Unfamiliar devices have access to your online accounts.
    • Your income tax return is way off.
    • You can't log into your online accounts.
    • You're denied government benefits, unemployment, or healthcare.

    If you're ready to stop worrying about the different types of identity theft and start protecting yourself from all of them, sign up for Identity Guard.

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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