Beware of Identity Theft
This section covers three types of identity theft, “normal,” child, and medical. Review the articles and presentations in the Topic Library to learn more about identity theft, as well as the tricks bad guys use to steal your identity, such as phishing, fraud, and scams.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft is a criminal offense, and anyone can be a victim. In fact, the FTC estimates that there are over 9 million victims of identity theft in the US every year. That’s about 9 out of every 300 people, so there’s a good chance you or someone you know has been affected.
Are You a Victim?
Here are the top six signs that you may be a victim of identity theft. And remember to regularly log into your online accounts and look for unauthorized activity. Don’t leave it for as long as a month before you check each account. If anything is suspicious or if you don’t recognize a transaction, contact your bank or card issuer.
- Your financial account is missing money or has been completely drained. Immediately contact the bank or credit agency.
- There are unauthorized charges on your credit card statements. If this happens, contact the credit issuer immediately.
- You get a phone call from a collection agency for an account you don’t know about. Ask the collection agency for more information, specifically who they are collecting for and what the debt is for.
- You stop receiving checks, utility bills, bank or credit card statements, and/or other mail. If this happens, contact the companies to see if your account information has been changed. If you suspect your mail has been stolen, contact the United States Postal Service.
- You’re notified that credit has been approved or denied — but you didn’t apply for it. Ask the credit agency how the account was opened and gather all possible details.
- You receive a higher interest rate or denied credit for no apparent reason. Ask the credit issuer for details. Also obtain your credit score and look for fraudulent entries.
General Protection Strategies
Here are ways to protect your identity around the house.
- On the phone, don’t give out personal information to anyone you didn’t call.
- Shred financial documents, receipts, and mail to foil dumpster divers.
- At home, keep all personal information locked up (or consider getting a safe deposit box).
- Consider a locked mailbox or a PO box.
- Make sure your hard drive is truly wiped before you donate, recycle, or toss your old computer.
Here are ways to protect your identity when you’re out and about.
- Pay attention to who’s handling your credit card. Make sure they are not illegally scanning it.
- Shield your PIN from others at the ATM or cash register.
- Know where your wallet and checkbook are at all times.
- Only carry what you absolutely need in your wallet (never carry your Social Security card).
Child ID Theft
Carnegie Mellon University CyLab recently conducted research on child identity theft. They analyzed a group of 42,232 children whose identities were scanned during a one-year period from 2009 to 2010. Here are some of their findings.
- 10.2% of children in the report had their Social Security number used by someone else.
- 76% of the cases involved malicious fraud — deliberate and intentional criminal activity.
- Child IDs were used to purchase homes and automobiles, open credit card accounts, secure employment and obtain driver’s licenses.
- Children are easy targets. Their identities are often a blank slate.
- The probability of discovery is low. Parents typically don’t monitor a child’s identity and the crime can go undiscovered for many years.
- The potential impact on a child’s future is profound. A stolen identity can destroy or damage a child’s ability to get a student loan, acquire a mobile phone, obtain a job, secure a place to live, and more.
- The primary drivers for such attacks are illegal immigration (to obtain false IDs for employment), organized crime (to engage in financial fraud) and friends and family (to circumvent bad credit ratings).
Child ID Theft Protection Strategies
Here are some easy ways to lessen the chance of your child falling victim to fraud:
- Watch for mail in your child’s name. If you begin receiving pre-approved credit cards or other unsolicited financial offers in your child’s name, it is an indicator that your child may have an open credit file.
- Teach your child about identity theft and online safety. Talk to your child about the dangers of sharing personal data online. See Protecting Your Family for more information.
- Don’t make your child susceptible to “friendly” identity theft. Don’t ever use your child’s name to open utility or other credit accounts.
- Keep your child’s sensitive documents safe. Keep them locked up in your home where visitors cannot access them.
Medical ID Theft
Medical ID theft is a rapidly growing and frightening issue that now impacts almost 6% of Americans. The Ponemon Institute’s March 2011 study, “The National Study on Medical Identity Theft,” indicates there have been more than 1.4 million victims of medical ID theft in the last two years alone. Medical ID theft has more than doubled since 2008 — with no end in sight.
What is Medical ID Theft?
Medical ID theft is when your identity or insurance information is used to get medical services, drugs, or other goods. In reality, it’s even worse than it sounds. It’s not only expensive to resolve (average cost is $20,663), but this is one type of identity theft that could cause you physical harm.
Imagine if somebody with a different blood type claims to be you. Your medical chart now lists the thief’s blood type. If you’re taken to the emergency room and need a transfusion, you could be given the wrong blood type.
Medical ID Theft Protection Strategies
Here’s how to protect yourself from medical ID theft.
- Avoid Internet services that offer treatment or medication — especially those that require sensitive information.
- Review any “Explanation of Benefits” statements you receive from your insurer. Contact them immediately if you find discrepancies. Also, review statements that read, “This is not a bill.” If you don’t recognize the doctor or the treatment call your insurer immediately.
- Regularly review your medical records for discrepancies or errors.
- Protect your insurance card.
- Annually, ask your insurer for a listing of benefits paid out in your name.
Check out First Aid for Medical ID Theft, a set of consumer tips written by the California Attorney General's Office. Help your health care provider protect your information by giving them this guide.