Hackers make money from identity theft, and they’ve developed sophisticated ways to steal information. In addition to the old-fashioned techniques of dumpster diving for discarded receipts and bank statements, tech-savvy groups are now able to exploit weaknesses in computer security to vacuum up account information, personal data, birthdates, social security numbers, and more from millions of people at a time.
Those who are severely impacted by identity theft and fraud can find themselves locked out of accounts and even arrested. It can be challenging to prove your own identity if another person has not only started to use identification with your name and their photo on it but used your medical insurance, filed a tax return, and leased home or auto. Those affected often have to take time off work and hire legal help to legally reclaim their identities.
The process can take months to resolve as some items won’t show up on your credit report until after an unpaid bill goes to a collection agency.
The Federal Trade Commission uses www.identitytheft.gov to help victims understand what happened, fill out forms, and start recovering from identity theft.
Some thieves may use their fake credentials when arrested for other crimes, so your identity can even be entered into law enforcement databases as a wanted criminal.
Get Help Locally
States like Iowa have an Identity Theft Passport Program that allows victims to apply for an alternative identification that authenticates their identity for law enforcement during or after a period of identity theft. Other states including Virginia, New Mexico, and Delaware offer a similar authenticated I.D. card for those who file a police report and prove their identities have been compromised by fraud. California has created a registry of identity theft victims that includes a document that may be used to clear your name in consumer and legal situations.
Some jurisdictions will also take a legal affidavit as proof that the holder is a victim of identity fraud. This note, which often requires authentication by local police, is to be used in the case of law enforcement involvement, as proof of the holder’s identity and that there is an ongoing fraud investigation open.
All of the above forms of alternative identification require providing documents to police at the time a report is filed regarding the fraud. The information required includes account statements, unique proof of identity such as a social security card and/or birth certificate, and documentation proving that fraud has been reported to credit bureaus, banks, and other institutions.
Unfortunately, now that biometric data such as voice commands and fingerprints can be stolen and likely used to open “ultra secure” accounts, there are few ways to truly guard against identity theft and fraud. And the latest tactic in identity fraud is to create “synthetic identities” using a mix of information from several people, essentially creating identities for individuals that don’t exist, which is harder to trace. Synthetic identities accounted for some $800 million in losses to fraud in a recent year.
The Scope of the Problem
Identity theft affected 1 in 15 people in 2017 as Equifax credit bureau information on 143 million people was whisked out of supposedly secure servers and disappeared on the dark web. One research company revealed that the recent thefts were much more severe than those in the past, as stolen credit card numbers was the least of the issue. After this event, thieves were able to tap into an individual’s health insurance, social security, tax returns, and even to have the answers to security questions that could unlock many other accounts. The Federal Trade Commission recommended that individuals freeze their credit lines to prevent abuse.
Victims of serious identity theft describe frustrating, time-consuming experiences in which others have not just used their personal information to open fraudulent credit card accounts but go deeper, getting medical attention, utility accounts, and their own identification cards in the victim’s name. One even practiced medicine using another doctor’s identity and credentials.
Keep in mind that an unprotected wifi router can also help to provide thieves with your personal information, potentially providing the same identification data without requiring a sophisticated corporate data breach. Similarly, techniques like phishing, in which an individual is tempted to click on a fake email link to their bank and provide a PIN number, is something that trips up many people.
Using two-factor authentication and account alerts are helpful ways of discouraging identity theft.
Some states are worse than others for identity theft. Thieves are likely to target large communities of seniors due to their relative inexperience with technology, using telemarketing fraud and phishing to get one piece of account information that unlocks more. Children’s identities have also been stolen for use by adults, and these crimes go unnoticed for years, often until college loans or a first credit card is sought. Theft of children’s identities are expected to affect up to 25 percent of people before age 18.