Identity Theft: What to do & How to Avoid It
With access to the internet now, identity theft is such an easy crime to get away with. Identity theft is where someone will be able to access your personal information to commit fraud. People can use your personal information to open new accounts, get access to your current accounts, and so much more.
In the United States, identity theft is a serious crime. In 2017 alone, over 15 billion dollars were stolen from individuals who were victims of identity theft. According to a survey done by The Harris Poll in January of 2018, over 540 adults residing in the United States experienced some sort of identity theft in 2017.
However, you do not have to become a victim of this serious crime. There are many steps you can take to avoid having your identity stolen as well as steps to take if you find out you are a victim of identity theft.
How Can Identity Theft Happen?
With the internet being so readily accessible, there are many ways that you can fall victim to identity theft.
Hackers can easily get personal information from a simple data security breach. You hear about data breaches all the time. It can happen online, or it can happen when someone hacks into a standalone store and grab all the consumers personal information.
Another way is that you may unknowingly be giving this information out on social media. You can even be talking about personal matters while you are out and about, and others can hear these conversations and take down pertinent information. Perhaps you accidentally left your financial or other personal documents in an unsafe place, where others can easily access it.
The important personal information you should be careful of is the following:
- Full Name
- Birth Date
- Social Security Number
- Bank Account Numbers
- Credit Card Numbers
- Medical Insurance Account Numbers
- Car Insurance
- Mother’s Maiden Name
Arming anyone with this information is giving them access to steal your identity with little to no effort. These people can easily max out ALL your credit cards, add bills in your name that you do not know about, and ultimately drag your name through the mud.
Hackers can even gain access to deceased peoples Social Security numbers as well and commit fraud there too. This is not just a living person problem.
What Types of Identity Theft Are There?
Now that you know what information you should be keeping close to you and not letting anyone see. You are probably wondering is there more than one type of identity theft?
The answer to that question is yes. There is more than one type of identity theft. You probably either have experienced or know someone that has experienced a hacker stealing money from your bank account or even credit card. This is a fairly common practice. To ensure that you can catch this kind of activity and nip it in the bud quickly is to set up your account alerts, along with scanning through your bank and credit card statements to ensure all of the charges are coming from you and no one else.
But let’s talk about what other types of identity theft is out there.
Criminal Identity Theft
Criminal identity theft will occur only when someone is arrested or cited for the crime that presents themselves as another individual by using that person personal identifying information. The result of this crime in the victim victims name is that they may not learn of this crime until it is far too late. With committing criminal identity theft, the perpetrator must provide people photo identification, which is typically counterfeit, but sometimes the real deal (if they stole the wallet of the victim), these photo identifications could be a Social Security card or even a Driver’s License.
Medical Identity Theft
Medical identity theft will happen when an individual will steal your very own personal information and use it to receive medical services, drugs, or treatment. This can also happen if the individual decides to use your personal information to fraudulently bill your medical insurance companies, government programs for services and goods that were never provided.
What Do You Need to Commit Medical Identity Theft?
The individual who is trying to commit medical identity theft will need to gather your personal information. This information will need to include your full name, Social Security number, date of birth along with other personally identifiable information or what is also known as PII. The individual when need to access your personal health information, which is also known as your PHI. This information will include your prescription history, medical history, and your other healthcare data.
You will want to know that something as small as a lost wallet that has your Social Security card inside can easily lead to you being a victim of medical identity theft. The individual can easily use your Social Security card in your wallet to get medical care from the emergency room, doctor’s offices and the like. These individuals can also obtain vital information that can affect your health insurance as well. They can even do a simple data breach and sell your information on the dark web.
However, there are other cases of medical identity theft, where a doctor or another medical service provider will submit a false insurance claim to your insurance company for services and/or goods that were not provided. For example, in 2017, a psychiatrist in Delaware was indicted on charges for submitting his patients personally-identifying information for over $100,000 in insurance claims for office visits that never even happened.
How Much Does Medical Identity Theft Cost the Average American?
In a study that was released back in 2015, nearly two-thirds of victims from medical identity theft stated they paid on average around $13,500 to fix this situation they were in. Medical identity theft is not cheap whatsoever.
When people do medical identity theft, they will target government programs and even your health insurance provider, which ends up with increased taxes and higher health insurance costs.
Even people who are very careful can possibly become a victim of medical identity theft due to the mingling of your information with someone else’s information. For instance, a simple mix up could lead to places using your information than the supposed real patients’ information.
How Can I Protect Myself from Medical Identity Theft?
Unfortunately, there is very little of anything you can do, if the medical identity theft started because of a data breach, since that is completely out of your control. However, there are a variety of things you can do to keep yourself and your information that you have on hand safe and not fall a victim to medical identity theft. These steps are the following:
- Keep a close eye on your social security number and your social security card. Do not leave it out in the open.
- Protect your health insurance information and your health insurance card. Again, do not leave it out in the open.
- Closely go over your Explanation of Benefits documents.
- Shred and properly dispose of all medical-related documents.
- Keep your own personal accurate records of all medical procedures and doctors’ appointments.
- Annually ask your health insurance to provide you with a list of benefits that they paid in your name. Does this match your records?
Tax Identity Theft
Now, we are going to talk about tax identity theft. Tax identity theft is the scariest of them all. This is when an individual has access to your Social Security number, and they will receive your tax refund fraudulently.
Unfortunately, you may not notice that you are a victim of this tax-related identity theft until you go and file your taxes and you find out that someone else used your name and file taxes for you.
This is where the fun begins!
The problem is when you are a victim of tax identity theft, it can take MUCH longer for you to get your tax refund. Not to mention, the person who fraudulently filed as you still have your personal, which also puts you at risk for other crimes as well.
Top 5 Signs of Tax Identity Theft
Tax identity theft will almost always come to you as a surprise, but here are 5 signs that you may be a victim of this horrible crime:
- When filing your taxes your form was rejected.
- Your tax preparer or the IRS let you know that there has been a tax return already filed under your social security number.
- You receive a letter from the IRS stating that there was a suspicious return filed that used your Social Security number.
- You receive something from the IRS stating that you were paid by an employer that you are not familiar with.
- You receive a letter from the IRS stating you owe additional tax, for a year that you didn’t file a tax return in.
How to Avoid Tax Identity Theft
As you can see tax identity theft is no fun. However, there are a few things you can do to help you avoid being a victim of this type of identity theft. Here are some things you can do:
- Keep your Social Security number in a safe place and out of reach of other individuals. Do not carry it in your wallet.
- Keep your tax documents in a safe place and out of reach of other individuals. Do not leave them out in the open.
- Change your passwords every so often and make sure they are strong passwords.
- Ensure all your computers have malware, firewall, along with anti-virus protection installed on them.
- Do NOT fall for the IRS scams. These scams include texts, calls, and emails.
Child Identity Theft
If your young child is already getting a pre-approved credit card and loan offers in the mail, you have a problem. That problem is very much child identity theft.
Child identity theft is when an individual will use your child’s Social Security number to commit fraud. This can be anything from taking out loans, opening credit card accounts, or even applying for government jobs or benefits.
Sadly, child identity theft can go under the radar for many years. This will allow the debts to pile up and up. Many of the victims of child identity theft will not even realize they were/are a victim until they become of age and start applying for student loans, credit cards, and auto loans and they are getting rejected due to their poor credit.
In a study that was published by Carnegie Mellon University back in 2015, it was stated that children are 51 times more likely to become a victim of identity theft than adults.
How Can Child Identity Theft Happen?
Typically, all child identity theft will happen when someone steals your child’s Social Security number.
As a parent, you will get your child’s Social Security number, shortly after they are born. You will end up using your child’s Social Security number to claim them as a dependent on your tax return, open a bank account for them, or even get medical coverage for them as well. You can also purchase savings bonds along with applying for government services as well.
But the real kicker is that the child identity theft can ultimately happen when someone steals your child’s Social Security number. The individual can easily use the child’s Social Security number for years and in result creating a false identity.
What Are Some Warning Signs?
Unfortunately, with your child being young, you may not even remotely think about your child’s Social Security number whatsoever. To be frank, there really is no reason to since they are not opening credit cards or needing bank loans.
However, there are signs out that there, that you may end up dismissing. Here are some of the signs that your child’s Social Security number may be tampered with. These signs are brought to you by the Federal Trade Commission:
- Getting pre-approved credit card offers via mail. You and I know that these credit card companies will send you these pre-approved offers due to your credit file. If your child does not have a credit file, they will not be getting these offers, but if they do, they will certainly be getting these through the mail.
- Rejected for government benefits. If you are trying to get government benefits for your child, but you keep getting rejected, chances are someone else is using your child’s Social Security number and getting benefits in another name.
- Receiving a notice from the IRS. Children should not be getting any mail from the IRS. If you get a letter from the IRS stating that your child did not pay their income taxes, that is a HUGE red flag that something is up.
- Debt collectors sending letters and calling to speak to your child. If you are getting debt collectors calling for your child for a bill that you never even heard of, that is a good indication that someone has your child’s social security number.
How Can I Avoid Child Identity Theft?
You are probably scared and want to know how you can protect your child from this child identity theft, well luckily for you there are ways you can do just that. Here are a few different ways you can protect your child’s personal information:
- Whenever you can, avoid sharing your child’s Social Security number. Not everyone needs that information.
- Do not leave your child’s social security number and your child’s other personal information in a place that others can snoop. It’s best to keep these documents locked up in a secure place only you know about.
- Shred and properly dispose of all documents that contain your child’s personal information.
- Keep a close eye on people who could benefit from stealing your child’s identity for their own personal gain.
- Always ask questions when it comes to your child personal information. Why do they need it? How do they store it? Will it be safe and away from the general public?
Senior Identity Theft
If you or someone you know is over the age of 60, you will need to be careful. Hackers will net over $36 billion from the older generation Americans through fraud and financial abuse. It is a growing epidemic.
A big part of the issue is senior identity theft. In the United States, the number of victims that fall for senior identity theft is increasing rapidly. In 2012, it was 2.1 million victims and then in 2014, it went to 2.6 million victims according to a study from the United States Department of Justice.
7 Ways to Fight Against Senior Identity Theft
If you or someone you know is over the age of 60, or perhaps you are looking out for your parents, here are seven ways you can help protect the seniors from falling victim of senior identity theft. Keep in mind, these ways will work no matter how old you are.
Disconnect from the phone
If someone is calling you and they are asking for your financial or personal information, never give them this information. It is completely okay to hang up the call.
Keep in mind, if they say they are from the credit card company or your bank, you can always call them back at the number you’ve always talked to them on.
Do NOT click on URLs in emails
If you get an email with a URL or even an email attachment, never click on them. If they are asking for your personal or financial information, do NOT give it to them. This is 100-percent a scam.
If you were to enter your personal or financial information, you are putting yourself at risk for falling victim to senior identity theft.
Use direct deposit
If you are receiving government benefits or your Social Security, you will want it to automatically be direct deposited into your bank account. This will protect you from having your benefits check stolen from your mailbox or by family members.
Be wary of family
Did you know that 90-percent of elder abuse reported is by the elder’s own family? Typically, the elder’s adult children. The senior should always make sure they trust those who will be in close contact with their personal and bank information.
Review your statements
It always pays to check over your credit card and bank statements. You should always do this every month to ensure that all transactions are yours. If you see a transaction that you do not believe is yours, you will want to contact your bank or your credit card immediately.
This one is vital. You will need to shred ALL bank statements, credit card statements, health records, or anything else with your personal information on them. For added protection, you can always mark out your information prior to shredding. This will make it that much harder for individuals to steal your identity and take advantage of your credit.
Senior Identity Theft Scams
For starters, these individuals’ prey on the seniors to gain their personal information. Most of these scams are done by two ways. These scams not only target the elderly but can also target gullible people as well.
People love to target seniors over the phone. They will gain their trust to collect their financial and personal information, so they can commit fraud. Most of these individuals will act as if they are from the bank, credit card company, or even the IRS to gain this information. They will make it out to be some sort of urgency that will prompt the elderly to quickly hand over their personal and financial information without thinking about the consequences.
Ah, we are in the time that the internet is a big thing. This is a scary big world for the elderly. Internet scams are not just targeting the elderly, but they target just about every single person.
These online con artists as we call them to love to “phish” for your personal information. They will “phish” for your personal from your email. They love doing this by pretending to be your mortgage company, bank, or even your credit card company. These online con artists will ask you to verify your very personal financial information such as your Social Security number, account number, and even your security questions and answers.
Methods Identity Stealers Use
Con artists are always itching to get their hands on some personal information, no matter if they find it online or even offline. That is, unfortunately, one of the scary things about identity theft. So, it is up to you to be smart about understanding how these con artists will steal your information and how you can combat it.
Top 2 Ways Con Artists Steal Your Identity Offline
Here are two ways you should be on the lookout for when you are out in public.
This is more common than you think. These con artists will look over your shoulder as you are inputting personal information. It does not matter if it is on your computer, ATM, or your phone. They may even listen to your personal phone conversations to collect your account information.
You may not know, but dumpster diving is a thing. Many people do it all the time. Especially, people that are looking for one thing and one thing only: personal information. The dumpster and your garbage can provide all of that without you even realizing it. You will always want to properly shred and discard all your checks, credit card statements, bank statements, along with any other medical or financial paperwork.
Top 3 Ways Con Artists Steal Your Identity Online
Here are three ways you should be on the lookout for when you are on the internet.
Public Wi-Fi while it is great and free, it doesn’t typically encrypt your data, so anyone that logs on to this Wi-Fi can access your personal information easily.
You will NEVER ever in a million in one year put any personal or financial information on an unencrypted website. You will typically see a picture of a lock next to the URL field. The URL should always contain an ‘https” which shows that it is secure.
We have briefly touched on phishing earlier in the article, but this is where people will set up websites or send out emails that look very trustworthy to the point that you will believe it’s the real deal and put your information in them.
Best Identity Theft Protection
We have briefly touched upon how you can protect yourself when it comes to identity theft, but let’s go over it just one more time.
You will always want to keep your personal information along with your financial information in a place only you have access to.
You should not discuss any personal matters that are not in the confinement of your own home. Do not say your Social Security number out loud in public. Do not give out your account numbers either.
When disposing of your personal documents ALWAYS mark out your personal information such as your full name, address, Social Security number, along with account numbers. After you do that you will want to shred the documents before discarding them in the trash.