As many as 9.9 million Americans become victims of identity theft each year. These crimes involve personally identifying information (PII):
Many people associate such crimes with online scams like phishing emails. However, most identities are stolen using low-tech methods. There are many ways thieves obtain your personal information:
- Old-fashioned stealing: They steal wallets and purses; mail, computers not protected with passwords, mailed bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and new checks or tax information sent through the U.S. Mail.
- Dumpster diving or trash rips: They rummage through communal or business trash to obtain copies of your checks, credit card or bank statements, or other records that typically bear your name, address, or telephone number.
- Phishing/spam: They send an email or pop-up message that looks like it came from a real bank or credit card company asking for identifying information. (This is called phishing.)
- Social engineering/pretexting: They pose as legitimate business or government officials to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
- Shoulder surfing: They watch you from a nearby location as you type in your password or credit card number, or listen in on your telephone conversation.
- Hacking: They gain unauthorized access into computer networks where information is stored.
What do thieves do with your personal information?
Thieves can use illegally obtained PII in various ways:
Unfortunately, many consumers learn that their identity has been stolen after damage has been done. Due to a bad credit report, a victim may be denied new credit, loans, mortgages, or utility service. The victim may fail background checks for employment or firearms, or may even end up in jail.
Guarding yourself against identity theft
Securing data and electronic information
Securing physical documents