What is identity theft?

Identity theft has evolved far beyond just credit card fraud, and unfortunately is a rapidly growing crime that most people will be impacted by — either directly or indirectly — at some point in their lives. By learning about the types of fraud that exist and the best practices to employ, you can help avoid becoming part of the statistic — digital thieves stole $14.4 billion from US consumers in 2018.

Unknown Criminal Records

Be aware for unknown criminal records

The consequences of identity theft can actually go beyond just damaging the victim’s creditworthiness. Once caught, the crimes committed by the identity thief can become part of the victim’s court and criminal record, ultimately resulting in the victim being wrongly arrested or denied employment upon a routine background check.

What are types of Identity Theft?

1. Synthetic Identity Fraud

Often a prerequisite to committing other types of fraud, synthetic identity fraud involves stealing a victim’s Social Security Number and attaching it to a new name, date of birth and other personal info required to essentially create a “new” person. According to Experian, synthetic identity fraud represents 80-85% of all current identity fraud.

2. New Account Fraud

Once a victim’s personal information and identity have been stolen, the thief will often use this to obtain products and services using the victim’s good credit standing. Opening new utility, cell phone and/or credit card accounts are all common forms of new account fraud.

3. Account Takeover Fraud

Account Takeover fraud is becoming increasingly common, particularly as traditional credit card fraud has become less prevalent due to the widespread adoption of EMV chipped credit cards. In an account takeover situation, a thief would log into the victim’s existing accounts, often using stolen credentials, and then add themselves as an authorized user. For example, the thief could log into your bank and then request a new credit card under your existing account. In this scenario, traditional credit monitoring would be unable to alert to this activity, because the thief is technically using an existing line of (your) credit.

4. Medical Identity Theft

A growing area of concern involves medical identity theft, which gives thieves the ability to access prescription drugs and even expensive medical treatments using someone else’s identity. When successful, medical identity theft frequently results in erroneous entries being put into the victim’s medical records, which in turn may even lead to inappropriate and potentially life-threatening decisions by medical staff. 

5. Business Identity Theft

Using a business’s name to obtain credit or even billing those businesses’ clients for products and services represents a big risk, particular to small business or sole proprietorships. Because new businesses sometimes need to overlap between business and personal, this type of fraud can impact budding entrepreneurs both personally and professionally. Worse, the perpetrators who commit business identity theft are often insiders — current or ex-employees — with direct access to operational documentation, who pad the books in favor of their scheming.

How is identity theft different from financial fraud?

The term “financial fraud” covers common credit card, check and debit card fraud. When criminals use your credit cards or debit cards to make a purchase, they typically do so without assuming your identity. Recovering from financial fraud is comparatively easier than recovering from identity fraud, because most creditors don’t hold you liable for fraudulent charges.

Security Breach

What personal information is generally taken when a breach occurs?

The type of information taken during a breach can vary widely depending on what personal info the company has stored, and what the perpetrator is able to access. Sometimes, the types of info stolen can also depend on the purpose of the breach, which could vary from making a political statement to a hacker simply “showing off”. Perpetrators that are committing breaches for financial gain generally target personal information that can be resold on the dark web and be used for identity fraud, focusing on info like full names, email addresses, passwords, Social Security number, date of birth and driver’s license number to name a few.

What is the risk of Criminal Identity Theft?

Criminal identity theft can create a myriad of headaches for the victim after the fact. Though a less common from of fraud, a thief could get caught for a traffic violation or a misdemeanor and sign the citation with your name. Then you get stuck paying those annoying fees and fines. If a thief uses your name when getting arrested for a crime, you could end up with a criminal record, which could affect your ability to get a job or buy/rent property. Another case is when the thief commits a crime using your identity, and then a warrant is issued for your arrest. But instead of looking for the criminal, they are looking for you—you could have a warrant out for your arrest and not even know it!

How to stay protected

So, if you have a few of these concerns on your mind, fear not – there’s steps you can take to stay protected. Start by following these best practices:

• Review your account info. Regularly reviewing online bank/credit account transactions can help you spot suspicious activities or purchases. If you do stumble upon something fishy, be sure to report it to your bank or credit institution immediately. Most banks these days also have a way to report suspicious transactions directly in your list of transactions. 

• Consider using McAfee® Identity Theft Protection. An identity theft protection service can monitor your accounts, alert you of potential problems, provide reimbursement options if you’re a victim of ID theft and help you regain your peace of mind and get remediation guidance to recover from identity theft.  

• Shred all sensitive documents, both online and offline. While shredding physical bank statements and other sensitive documents can help prevent offline identity theft, it’s also important to “shred” sensitive files as well like PDFs of tax returns and bank statements should a hacker gain access to your PC. Typically, when you delete a file, it isn’t entirely gone; instead, that part of your storage is marked as available to be overwritten with new data. Unfortunately, this means that a savvy hacker could reconstruct the file even if it’s been deleted. Fortunately, antivirus suites like McAfee® Total Protection include file shredding capabilities, which effectively make deleted files unrecoverable, often up to military-grade deletion standards. 

• Encrypt sensitive files on your PC. Similar to shredding sensitive files you no longer need, using a file encryption tool like File Lock in McAfee® Total Protection. By placing sensitive files that you need to keep in your password-protected File Lock Vault, you can keep them hidden from potential thieves and hackers. 

• Report missing identification cards. Most criminal identity thieves get your information from stealing your personally identifiable information (PII) from physical cards like your driver’s license, Social Security card or Identification card. If you report a missing driver license, your state might flag your license number and in the event that another driver is pulled over by law enforcement and presents your license as their own they could be questioned for further information 

• Get a background check on yourself. If you feel like someone may be impersonating you, get a background check done. This can be done via online services or by a private investigator. 

• Check State and National criminal databases. Search your name in criminal databases like the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database to see if you have a criminal record you’re unaware of.