Short Primer on Identity Theft

Identity Theft is a form of fraud. The difference is the mechanism by which a person might be victimized. Fraud is a broader general category that includes credit card theft and use, mail fraud, non-delivery of goods, and of course Identity Theft. Usually, Identity Theft is when someone misuses someone else’s Social Security Number (SSN). They use the victim’s SSN to create an identity that is a combination of their own and of their victim’s. For example, an identity thief might find or buy a SSN. They might then go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), sign an affidavit, and obtain a Driver’s License. They’ll then use the Driver’s License as proof that they’re a citizen so that they can provide proof residency and identification. In some cases, there’s no correlation between the person’s credit file obtained illegally and the identity thief’s identity. They’ll use the identification to “prove” that they are who they claim.   

How it Works

Identity Theft rarely goes well for the victim. In 2018, 14.4 million US citizens had their identities stolen. The aggregate losses experienced by the victims was over 1.7 trillion dollars. Besides the difficulty of recovery, there’s the risk of having your identity stolen again. Identity theft is a serious problem. The only known answers are minimizing your use of credit, monitoring your credit scores and history, and regularly reviewing your bank accounts and credit card accounts. Because it is fraud and not a scam, Identity Theft victims are usually able to recover stolen funds from their financial institutions. Victims of scams are rarely able to recover amounts because you’re expected to recognize when someone is conning you and avoid being scammed. There are multiple techniques you can employ to protect your identity.  

You don’t just have to worry about not having your SSN locked in a safe. In 2017, over 158 million Social Security Numbers were exposed in data breaches. Personal information is regularly disclosed in breaches. So, besides regular monitoring, it makes sense to implement some practical basic security measures like good password management, patching your own computers, scanning your computers for malware, and not sending your information in emails. If you implement some of these practices, or better yet all of them, then you’ll take the right steps necessary to help protect your identity. The final step you should take when you want to avoid the damage that identity thieves can cause is to take consider freezing your credit. If you don’t need credit, this is an excellent way of protecting yourself.  

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