Identity Theft Information & FAQs

Learn more about identity theft with these frequently asked question.

+What is identity theft?-What is identity theft?What is identity theft?

Identity theft (also known as identity fraud) is the misappropriation of another person's identifying information in order to obtain credit fraudulently from banks and retailers; steal money from the victim's existing accounts; apply for loans; establish accounts with utility companies; rent an apartment; file bankruptcy; obtain a job; or achieve other financial gain using the victim's name.

  • Account takeover occurs when a thief acquires a person's existing credit account information and uses the existing account to purchase products and services. Victims usually learn of account takeover when they receive their monthly account statement.
  • In true identity theft or application fraud (often called true name fraud by experts), a thief uses another person's SSN and other identifying information to fraudulently open new accounts and obtain financial gain. Victims may be unaware of application fraud for an extended period of time - which can allow the thief to continue the ruse for months, even years.


+What Methods do Identity Thieves Employ?-What Methods do Identity Thieves Employ?What Methods do Identity Thieves Employ?

Stealing wallets and purses was once the most common way of obtaining SSNs, driver's licenses, credit card numbers, and other identifying information. Today, identity thieves attack virtually every area of an individual's life - wherever personal information is stored or sent. Among the currently favored methods:

  • "Dumpster diving" in trash bins for credit card statements, loan applications, and other documents containing names, addresses, account information, and Social Security numbers
  • Stealing mail from unlocked mailboxes to get pre-approved credit offers and newly issued credit cards, utility bills, bank and credit card statements, investment reports, insurance statements, benefits documents, or tax information
  • Fraudulently accessing credit files by posing as a loan officer, employer, or landlord
  • Getting names, addresses, birthdates, and SSNs from personnel or customer files in the workplace
  • "Shoulder surfing" at ATM machines and phone booths to capture PIN numbers
  • Culling personal data from online sources, such as public records and fee-based information sites


+How Can I Reduce my Risk of Identity Theft?-How Can I Reduce my Risk of Identity Theft?How Can I Reduce my Risk of Identity Theft?

Unfortunately, established personal habits and lax credit industry practices make it relatively easy for criminals to commit identity theft. Nonetheless, you can reduce your risk considerably. The three most important things you can do are:

  • Scrutinize your credit report at least twice a year.
  • Sign up for a credit monitoring service.
  • Periodically check other personal records, such as your DMV file.