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What Is Identity Theft? A Guide To Protecting Your Personal Info

In this day and age, one of the more common crimes being committed involves identity theft. Compared to crimes such as murder or robber, stealing personal information is considered non=violent in nature. Albeit it does not involve physically hurting a person, the crime can still inflict harm in other ways. So what is identity theft and how does the crime affect the victim? In most cases, it is for financial gain although there are other reasons, depending on the type of theft. Knowing how to protect yourself from thieves will save you the headache of trying to rectify or repair damages caused by a stolen identity.

Types of Identity Theft

There are six known types of identity theft. In most cases, the perpetrator assumes the identity of another to gain financial benefits or other types of resources. More commonly known as financial identity theft, criminals steal information to buy goods or services. Credit card theft is one of the most well-known examples to this type of theft. You do not even need to lose the physical card to know its effects. Thieves can steal your credit card information and use it to purchase items and you pay for the bill.

Medical identity theft is similar to financial identity type of theft but is more specific. Here, the person uses the identity and information of another individual in order to get drugs, medical care or benefits. Any drugs or treatments taken by the poser will also be recorded as part of the victim’s medical history. One of the dangerous aspects of this crime is if the poser’s treatments and prescribed drugs are used as a basis for the victim’s course of treatment.

Criminal identity theft involves assuming the identity of another person to perform a crime. This may involve getting special permits, illegally entering a country, hiding from the law or performing acts of terrorism. A person posing as another person when apprehended by police or law enforcement officials can also be considered as committing this type of theft.

With identity cloning, a person assumes the identity of another and lives the victim’s life. Unlike the financial type of theft, the same crime is committed for a longer period of time. The criminal may also be involved in using or faking other credentials and IDs in order to pass off as the actual person.

Identity theft involving children is a growing concern in the United States. Each individual, regardless of age, can be issued a Social Security number. In the case of kids, they are less wary of taking care of their Social Security number. As the information listed on a child’s account is fairly limited, criminals can use the stolen numbers to purchase goods or services, obtain a driver’s license or apply for credit cards and the like. In a recent study, approximately 10% of 40,000 kids included were found to be victims of identity theft.

There is also what is known as synthetic identity theft. This type of theft involves mixing an existing Social Security number with a different name or birth date. As a result, a new identity or a subfile of an existing identity is created. Any information or transactions made with the alternate identity may affect the real one. For example, the victim may discover that his credit rating has been affected because of purchases made with the fake identity.

Ways to Steal Personal Information

  • Dumpster diving or going through a person’s garbage is one of the more traditional yet still common ways of obtaining personal information about a person.
  • Stealing the person’s wallet or robbing a house to find information and obtain credit cards or Social Security numbers.
  • Stealing devices such as a mobile phone, smartphone, a PDA, a desktop or a laptop can yield personal data.
  • Criminals who have a copy of the victim’s email address can send malicious emails which duplicate emails from banks or legitimate sites. Any transactions made through these emails will be made to the thieves’ accounts.
  • Some thieves fill up a change of address form and have the victim’s mail redirected to another address. The thief will then be able to access the victim’s mail and personal data from that location.
  • Discreetly peeping or watching over a person’s shoulder while performing a transaction online.
  • Browsing a person’s accounts in social networking sites and gaining information there. The information gathered can be used to gain credibility when assuming the victim’s identity. Information can be obtained by reading the person’s profile, posts or asking the victim’s friends.
  • Calling up institutions such as banks to get personal information or login details of a victim’s existing account.
  • Protecting Personal Information
  • Purchase a paper shredder. Go for models that can shred papers into finer pieces such as the crosscut, confetti or diamond. Shred any documents that you do not need or intend to throw away. This discourages thieves from gaining information when going through your trash.
  • Avoid paying bills through the mail. Thieves can drive through entire neighborhoods aiming to get access to payments sent through mail and credit information.
  • Avoid carrying multiple credit cards or your Social Security card unless you know you need to. Carry only as much cash as you need for the trip. There is a possibility that you can get robbed during the trip so it is better to be on the safe side.
  • Check bank records of your credit card transactions to see if any suspicious transactions have been made. Also check your receipts. These should only show the last five numbers of your credit card and no other information. If the shop chooses to reveal more information when issuing receipts, use cash to pay for your next transactions.
  • Do not post important personal information on your social networking accounts such as credit card numbers, your Social Security number or even your complete address. Avoid revealing the same when applying for work. There is no telling what happens to your application papers afterwards.
  • Invest in a fireproof safe. This is where you should store important documents such as birth certificates and bank information.
  • When thinking of passwords for online accounts, think of one that combines lower case and upper case letters with numbers. Weak passwords are those that involve your birth date, address or a loved one’s name.


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