Identity Theft

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is the illegal use of another's personal data, such as name, address, birth date, and Social Security number. Overall, identity theft cost Americans approximately $52.6 billion in 2004.

How Does it Happen?

Studies show that as much as 72% of the personal information used in identity fraud scams in 2004 was stolen from carelessly handled paper sources.

A casually discarded receipt, a personal document or checkbook kept in your desk drawer, or applications casually stored can result in fraud.

Fraud occurs when merchants do not have adequate controls in place to protect information they collect from you for a transaction. This includes debit or credit card data, personal information on your checks, and personal information you provide when applying for a store discount or membership card.

Only 12% of identity fraud cases resulted from financial information illegally obtained online.

Friends, family members, and neighbors are implicated in approximately half of the fraud cases, resulting in losses nearly seven times more than losses from online fraud.

Technology-based scams are a very real threat; however, while your attention is focused on computer firewalls and security updates, don't ignore the threats that come from dumpster diving, mail theft, checkbooks left unattended, sensitive documents left in an unlocked drawer, or data skimmed from a diner's credit card.

Frauds That Can Result

1. Account takeover - when a fraudster uses your credit or debit card account information to buy goods and services.

2. Application fraud - what some experts call "true ID theft." The thief uses stolen identifying information to open new accounts using a false address, and possibly even obtaining false ID, such as a driver's license, in your name.

3. Electronic crime - mostly unauthorized home banking transactions as the result of the following:

  • Phishing emails: fake e-mails luring you to a spoofed website to collect personal information
  • Spoofing: bogus "lookalike" websites, which ask you to provide personal information
  • Pharming: redirecting web traffic to a bogus site

4. Trojan key loggers – programs loaded without the computer user's knowledge that record keystrokes from online sessions.