How Identity Thieves Steal Your Identity

While identity thieves will use any data possible to assume the identity of another, their bread and butter revolves around your name, social security number, account numbers and credit card numbers. With this information, an identity thief’s next vacation is right around the corner. That is why these items should be your most guarded.

Identity thieves have come up with many inventive ways to steal your identity. Some are very technical, some not so much:

• Do you have an outside unlocked mailbox? Why? This is the first stop for an ID thief. Your mailbox allows easy access to your bank statements, credit card numbers, mortgage statements, 401k account information. Your mailbox is an open book to your life. Close it.

• Have you ever received an email from a financial institution with which you have no association and the subject line states that they need your account information to process a transaction (or similar situation)? This is a “phishing” attempt. They cast out their line into the email ocean of millions of addresses hoping only to bait one unsuspecting fish. While you might not have an account with the financial institution they’re using, thousands of people will. How many of those people will be caught off guard? By the way, these emails, if you open them, appear very official and can even appear to link back to the actual institution. Don’t fall for it.

• Does your company website list information about you, maybe in the form of a small bio and a picture? Ouch! Now the identity thief has your employment history, your college information, and so on. The same thing goes for publicly listing your resume. Couple this information with information found in the phone book and the identity thief has your history along with whatever they can garner from your unlocked mailbox.

• They might steal your trash. You’ve seen a movie or twelve in which a criminal steals somebody’s trash and finds out all about them. This is a tactic commonly know as dumpster diving. (A simple fix for this? Buy a shredder, shred everything twice and divide everything into multiple trash bags. This way one trash bag shouldn’t contain the entire shredded remains of any single document.)

• They might pose as a telemarketer from a company they know you do business with and call you to upgrade your service or convince you to buy some add-on. They will be very convincing because they will have your account number, last payment amount, your address and any other bit of information they can glean from the statement they stole from your…you guessed it…unlocked mailbox. They’ll convince you to add on that service or purchase that new whiz-bang gizmo. “Now, sir, all I need is your credit card number, the three digit code on the back of your credit card and your date of birth and we’ll place the order for you today.” Ouch.

• Outright theft. Some identity thieves just don’t have time for elaborate hoaxes or technologically advances scams. They just steal your purse or wallet whenever they see an opportunity. Another thing they might steal: employee records. It’s amazing the information provided in an employee file!

• They might fill out a change of address form and have your statements sent directly to them.

• They might know you! The identity thief might be your brother, cousin, best friend or…spouse. It isn’t unusual for identity theft victims to get played by someone they know. This is the most unfortunate of circumstance because there’s not much you can do to prevent it outside of never talking about your personal information. This, however, can be hard to hide from a spouse or close relative.

This is just a small list of possible ways to have your identity stolen. Most of the above situations can be avoided with a little forethought and planning. Understanding that identity theft is always a possibility is the first step in avoiding it.