The 13 Latest Types of Identity Theft in 2024

February 14, 2024


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    Here Are All the Ways Criminals Can Steal Your Identity

    Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. But do you really know how to protect yourself?

    Unfortunately, most people still think of identity thieves as dumpster divers looking for your credit card statements. And while mail theft can lead to identity theft, today, criminals have more sophisticated ways to steal your identity.

    Even worse, they need less personal information than ever to run their scams.

    Synthetic identity theft — where criminals combine your Social Security number (SSN) with other names and identities — is the fastest growing type of identity theft in America [*].

    That’s just one of the many ways that your identity — and finances — are at risk.  

    So what exactly is this crime that’s affecting so many of us? How does identity theft happen? And what types of identity theft are you most at risk of?

    What Is Identity Theft? How Bad Is It?

    Identity theft, or ID theft, happens when someone steals your personal information, usually to use it for their own gain. That personal data includes your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN), account numbers, credit card details, and more.

    In the past five years, FBI reports of identity theft have nearly tripled, and the total monetary loss has increased by five times [*]. In 2022, there were nearly 1.1 million reports of identity theft with credit card fraud topping this list [*].

    Identity theft isn’t the same as identity fraud, though many use the terms interchangeably. Identity theft happens when someone who shouldn’t have your personal information gets it, while identity fraud is using that information (for example, opening a new credit account or loan in your name).

    But how can someone else get their hands on your personal data?

    How Do Criminals Steal Your Identity?

    There are as many forms of identity theft as there are criminals, and fraudsters are constantly innovating their schemes.

    But most types of identity theft rely on the same common methods for stealing your info:

    1. Phishing attacks. Phishing is when a scammer contacts you via phone or email pretending to be someone else, like a bank or the IRS.
    2. Data breaches leaked to the Dark Web. Our personal data is everywhere online, from social media and banking to government agencies. But hackers are often able to break into these databases and use or sell the data they find.
    3. Installing malware. Thieves can send spam emails with a link or an attachment that downloads malware to your device. This software can collect data, track what you type, and steal your account passwords.
    4. Physical theft. Thieves can collect sensitive data by stealing from your mailbox or trash. Criminals are often looking for bank statements, medical records, or even junk mail with your personal data. And a lost driver’s license or Social Security card offers the perfect opportunity.
    5. Shoulder surfing. Looking over someone’s shoulder might sound low-tech, but it works. Using a public computer or even just opening your smartphone around unscrupulous coworkers or friends can give a thief all the information they need.
    6. Social engineering attacks. Scammers can build your trust through what’s called social engineering. Common scams promise romance, prize winnings, or a dream job.
    7. Hacking devices or networks. It’s surprisingly easy for hackers to collect data over Wi-Fi networks. Public internet — like at coffee shops and airports — is a common target.

    There are plenty of ways for thieves to steal your identity. But what can they do once they’re armed with that data?

    The Top 13 Types of Identity Theft (And How To Avoid Them)

    Let’s take an in-depth look at some of the most common types of fraud, the warning signs to look for, and what to do if you’re a victim.

    1. Social Security number (SSN) identity theft

    How it works: Your SSN is the key that unlocks your identity to thieves. With it, they can open new accounts in your name, apply for government benefits, or even gain employment they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

    Criminals either steal or buy your SSN on the Dark Web, then use it to open new lines of credit or to access accounts. An identity theft FBI raid in May 2022 found thieves with hundreds of stolen Social Security numbers [*].

    Criminals can even use your SSN to commit crimes in your name (criminal identity theft) or take out new credit cards (credit card fraud).

    What are the warning signs of Social Security number theft?

    • Suspicious activity, like new credit lines or unfamiliar inquiries, on your credit report.
    • A lost or stolen Social Security card (or any documents that include your SSN).

    How to protect yourself: Your Social Security number is the key to unlocking your identity — and you can’t change it as easily as you can a credit card.

    Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary. For example, just leave the field blank when filling out a form at a doctor’s office or your child's school. Monitor breaches and stay extra cautious if your Social Security information is leaked.

    Zoom out: You can get a free credit report from all three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) each year from

    2. Unemployment and government benefit fraud

    How it works: A thief poses as you to claim benefits from government agencies. This type of identity theft has been a common ruse for claiming COVID-19 benefits. As much as $163 billion in pandemic-related unemployment insurance was paid improperly, largely due to fraud, according to a 2022 Department of Labor report [*].

    One California woman even had her tax refund confiscated because a fraudster had claimed unemployment benefits in her name during the pandemic [*]

    Watch: How scammers can claim unemployment in your name →

    What are the warning signs of government benefit fraud?

    • You’re denied government benefits because you’re supposedly already receiving them.
    • You receive letters, emails, or phone calls about benefits you didn’t apply for.

    How to protect yourself: The best way to protect yourself is to keep your information secure. If you are going to request benefits, don’t put it off — the sooner you apply, the less time a thief has to impersonate you.

    3. Financial identity theft

    How it works: A thief gets hold of financial information, like your debit or credit card number, and spends everything available. Some thieves buy these numbers on the Dark Web. Others use phishing techniques, like sending official-looking emails that ask you to verify your bank account details.

    Phishing email posing as alerting the recipient about an alleged payment issue blocking their account
    The exact phishing email one Reddit user received from someone impersonating

    In 2022, a man from Washington state saw his $60,000 investment account drained to just 32 cents after a cyber thief bought his information on the Dark Web [*].

    What are the warning signs of financial identity theft?

    • Unfamiliar purchases, even small ones, on your credit card accounts or bank statements.
    • New lines of credit you didn’t apply for on your credit report.
    • Notifications about fraudulent purchases.
    • Mail or phone calls about new credit cards or collection calls about unfamiliar debt.

    How to protect yourself: Review your bank and credit card statements regularly and file a fraud report for any unfamiliar transactions. Set up credit monitoring to spot suspicious activity on your credit report. And report lost or stolen cards immediately.

    Pro tip: Protect your finances and identity with an identity theft protection service. Identity Guard uses artificial intelligence (AI) to discover the latest threats to your identity and protect you from scammers. Learn more about how Identity Guard keeps you safe

    4. Online shopping fraud

    How it works: Thieves log in to a site you use and buy goods using your saved credit card information. Hackers have recently infiltrated Neiman Marcus, Microsoft, Android, and many more. And the first quarter of 2022 has been the third year in a row that data breaches have increased [*].

    What are the warning signs of online shopping fraud?

    • Notifications about attempts to log in to your accounts.
    • Notifications about products you didn’t buy.
    • Unfamiliar activity on your credit card or bank statements.

    How to protect yourself: Only save payment information on websites you trust and plan to use frequently. Protect those accounts by using secure passwords and multi-factor authentication. Check your financial statements regularly to spot any unusual activity and monitor personal information on the Dark Web.

    5. Medical identity theft

    How it works: Identity thieves use your health insurance data to pay for medical services.

    For example, New York resident Gerald D’Ambrosio received a letter from Medicare about a hefty set of bills for doctor visits, X-rays, blood work, ambulance rides, and more — all supposedly treated while he was self-isolating during the COVID-19 lockdown [*].

    What are the warning signs of medical identity theft?

    • Health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid statements listing unfamiliar medical care.
    • Letters from unfamiliar hospitals, doctors, or pharmacies.
    • Collection calls regarding unpaid medical bills.

    How to protect yourself: Scammers commonly collect medical information through phone calls, emails, and text messages posing as doctors or insurance agents. Don’t give out sensitive information on incoming messages like this.

    Instead, if someone calls claiming to be from an insurance company, hang up and call the official number on their website yourself.

    ⛳️ Related: How to Prevent Medical Identity Theft

    6. Child identity theft

    How it works: Thieves use a child’s identity to apply for credit. All they need is your child’s SSN to apply for credit and loans. Even worse, most organizations don’t verify birth dates with government sources, which means children won’t even discover they’re victims until their first job, credit card, or student loan application.

    What are the warning signs of child identity theft?

    • Your child (under 18) has a credit report with any of the three reporting bureaus.
    • Your child gets mail or phone calls about new credit, “pre-approved” offers, or debt collection.

    How to protect yourself: Freeze your child’s credit at all three reporting bureaus. A freeze denies all credit applications in their name. Your child can unfreeze it when they turn 18.

    7. Online account takeovers

    How it works: A thief will log in to your social media account and change the passwords so you’re locked out. With the reins of your account, they can do anything from destroying your reputation to pitching scams to your friends.

    Scammers often reach out through a friend’s hacked account and ask for information that helps them attack yours.

    Facebook message exchange showing a scammer posing as a contact, requesting one-time codes from you to take over your account
    An example of how a Reddit user almost gave up access to their Facebook account to a scammer.

    What are the warning signs of online account takeovers?

    • Notifications about failed login attempts to your account.
    • If you’re unable to log in to your account with a username and password you know works.
    • Someone asks you to change your account settings or share verification codes with them.

    How to protect yourself: Protect your social media accounts with strong, unique passwords and multi-factor authentication. Change passwords if there’s a data breach. Keep an eye out for the most common online scams, and remember — friends don’t need your personal information to get into their accounts.

    8. Elder fraud

    How it works: Elder fraud is any kind of identity theft that preys on the elderly.

    For example, an older woman in Brandon, Florida, nearly fell prey to a fraud scheme in 2022 when scammers ordered two new iPhones through her Spectrum cable account [*]. Once the iPhones arrived at her house, they called her asking that she “return” the phones to an address controlled by the thieves.

    What are the warning signs of elder fraud?

    • Letters, calls, or emails about new accounts set up in your name.
    • Receiving packages or products you didn’t order.
    • Getting unexpected calls or messages — even from people posing as family members — who request gift cards or money orders.

    How to protect yourself: Beware of unsolicited contact from anyone you’ve never met in person, especially if they ask for money or valuables. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    Zoom out: Protect your elderly family members from fraud with a family identity theft protection plan.

    ⛳️ Related: What Is the Grandparent Scam? (And How To Avoid It)

    9. Tax-related identity theft

    How it works: Most tax identity theft happens when someone files a tax return in your name and claims your refund. In other cases, someone uses your personal information for employment. The IRS may flag it for tax evasion when the employer’s wages don’t appear on your return.

    What are the warning signs of tax-related identity theft?

    • The IRS rejects your tax return because one has already been filed in your name.
    • You receive tax documents — like a 1099 or W-2 — from an unfamiliar employer.
    • Your tax return is flagged for an audit.

    How to protect yourself: File your taxes as soon as possible. Use the IRS Identity Protection PIN, a sort of two-factor authentication created to combat tax identity fraud.

    10. Synthetic identity theft

    How it works: Rather than stealing one person’s identity, a thief combines different pieces of information — like one person’s Social Security number and another person’s name and address — to create a new false identity.

    The thief can then apply for credit in the name of a person who doesn’t exist, which can take longer to uncover.

    What are the warning signs of synthetic identity theft?

    • Unfamiliar activity on your credit report.
    • Strange or incorrect information in your Social Security administration account (my Social Security).
    • Letters made out to your address but with someone else’s name.

    How to protect yourself: Get alerts for data breaches and monitor your credit report. Consider setting up a credit freeze to deny all credit applications in your name.

    ⛳️ Related: What Is Synthetic Identity Fraud? How To Protect Yourself

    11. Home title fraud

    How it works: Someone forges your signature and submits a deed transfer to city hall showing you’ve sold your home to them. With their name on the title, the thief may sell the home or take out a mortgage using it as collateral.

    An Arizona woman discovered her late father’s home had been emptied and sold by someone falsifying the deed [*].

    What are the warning signs of home title fraud?

    • Changes to your home’s title in county records.
    • Mail about a new mortgage or mortgage application.

    How to protect yourself: Sign up for home title fraud notifications. Identity Guard, for example, can alert you to any changes on your deed.

    Screenshot of a web interface showing Identity Guard's home title monitoring feature and its benefits

    12. Internet of Things (IoT) identity fraud

    How it works: Thieves can hack into the connected smart devices around your house, like doorbells, printers, and baby monitors. They can collect personal data or attack other devices on the network.

    Devices belonging to the Internet of things are often less secure, likely a reason why these attacks doubled in the first half of 2021 [*]. For example, Amazon Ring smart doorbells have had several security issues in the past few years.

    What are the warning signs of Internet of things identity theft?

    • Strange behavior on a connected smart device.
    • Security alerts on smartphones or laptops connected to your Wi-Fi.
    • Notifications of unfamiliar logins to smart control systems.

    How to protect yourself: Create a strong and unique password for your home Wi-Fi network. After installing a smart device with a login option, replace the default password.

    13. Mail identity theft

    How it works:Identity thieves steal mail or packages that have been delivered for you, most often financial or medical mail.

    In 2022, a Connecticut man pleaded guilty and was arrested for mail fraud [*]. He had stolen the mail of more than 70 victims and used their identities to spend over $100,000.

    What are the warning signs of mail identity theft?

    • Missing mail or packages.
    • Suspicious activity on your credit report or financial statements.

    How to protect yourself: Check your mail as soon as possible after it’s delivered to give thieves less time to steal it. Try to be at home when you’re expecting packages or sensitive documents. And shred any mail — even junk mail — before you throw it away.

    How to Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

    While these are the most common types of identity theft, scammers are always looking for new ways to steal your info. So how do you know if your identity has been stolen?

    There are a few common warning signs of identity theft that will let you know if you’re at risk:

    1. Unfamiliar charges. Review your credit card and bank statements and look for charges you don’t recognize. Don’t ignore a suspicious transaction just because it’s small, as thieves often test accounts with small charges first.
    2. Unexpected changes in credit. If you see a drop in your credit score or are denied loans without knowing why, it could be because someone has applied for or maxed out credit lines in your name.
    3. Unfamiliar activity on your credit report. Review your credit report from a credit bureau like Equifax. Look for unfamiliar hard inquiries, new credit cards, or new lines of credit.
    4. Account login alerts. Emails alerting you to new logins, failed login attempts, or success in creating a new account you don’t recognize are all signs that may indicate someone is trying to use your identity.
    5. Data breach alerts. State law requires companies to inform you of data breaches. A breach doesn’t guarantee identity theft but puts you at greater risk.
    6. Fraud alerts. Immediately take action if you get a call from your credit card company or bank about charges you don’t recognize. Beware that scammers also use fraud alert calls — only confirm or deny the amount on an incoming call, and never give out personal data.
    7. Debt collection. If you get phone calls or emails from unfamiliar lenders or debt collectors, it could mean someone has unpaid debt in your name.

    If any of those signs sound familiar, you might be a victim of identity theft.

    Was Your Identity Stolen? Here’s What to Do

    Once you spot a warning sign of identity theft, take action quickly. Here’s what to do if your identity is stolen:

    • Freeze your credit. You can do this by calling each credit union separately and requesting a credit freeze.
    • Call any impacted companies or financial institutions. Explain you’ve been a victim of identity theft and ask them to reverse charges and close accounts you didn’t open.
    • File an official identity theft report. This is done with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at
    • File a police report. Go to local law enforcement and ask to report a case of identity theft.
    • Secure your online accounts. Update your passwords, enable 2FA, and start using a secure password manager.
    • Scan your devices for malware. Use antivirus software to check whether hackers have infected your devices or network.
    • Sign up for identity theft protection and credit monitoring. Identity Guard protects you from future identity theft by constantly monitoring your online accounts, sensitive information, and financial accounts for signs of fraud. Plus, if the worst should happen, you’re covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.

    ⛳️ Related: Is Identity Theft Protection Really Worth It?

    Beware of These Common Types of Identity Theft

    Identity theft is widespread and can happen to anyone. Knowing some of the most common types of fraud can help you stay alert, but identity theft protection isn’t easy to handle on your own.

    Protect your identity and finances from scammers. Get 33% off Identity Guard 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