How Fraud and Identity Theft Occur

Skilled thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information. For example:

  • They get information from businesses or other institutions by stealing records from their employer, bribing an employee who has access to these records, or hacking into the organization’s computers.
  • They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses or dumps in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
  • They obtain credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to the information.
  • They steal credit and debit card numbers as your card is processed by using a special information storage device in a practice known as “skimming.”
  • They steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
  • They steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information.
  • They complete a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.
  • They steal personal information from your home.
  • They scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may:

  • Go on spending sprees using your credit and debit card account numbers to buy “big-ticket” items like computers that they can easily sell.
  • Open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
  • Change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on the account. Because the bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there’s a problem.
  • Take out loans in your name
  • Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • Counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.
  • Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred, or to avoid eviction.
  • Give your name to the police during an arrest. If they are released and don’t show up for their court date, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.

Information provided by brochure from the Federal Trade Commission.

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