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What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes.

Each year, millions of Americans have their identity stolen. Consumers whose identities have been stolen can spend years clearing up their good name and credit. The best way to help prevent becoming a victim of Identity Theft is to safeguard your personal information.

How do thieves steal an identity?

Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information. Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:

  1. Dumpster Diving. Rummaging through trash looking for bills or other documents with your personal information.
  2. Skimming. Stealing credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
  3. Phishing. Pretending to be financial institutions or companies and sending spam/pop-up messages to trick you into revealing your personal information.
  4. Changing Your Address. Diverting your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
  5. Old-Fashioned Stealing. Stealing wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information.
  6. Pretexting. Using false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.

What do thieves do with a stolen identity?

Once they have your personal information, identity thieves use it in a variety of ways.

Credit card fraud:

  • Thieves may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the cards and don't pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.
  • Thieves may change the billing address on your credit card so that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on your account. Because your bills are now sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there's a problem.

Phone or utilities fraud:

  • Thieves may open a new phone or wireless account in your name, or run up charges on your existing account.
  • Thieves may also use your name to get utility services like electricity, heating, or cable TV.

Bank/finance fraud:

  • Thieves may create counterfeit checks using your name or account number.
  • Thieves may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
  • Thieves may clone your ATM or debit card and make electronic withdrawals your name, draining your accounts.
  • Thieves may take out a loan in your name without any intentions of repayment.

Government documents fraud:

  • Thieves may get a driver's license or official ID card issued in your name using their own photo.
  • Thieves may use your name and Social Security number to get government benefits.
  • Thieves may file a fraudulent tax return using your information.

Other fraud:

  • Thieves might get a job using your Social Security number.
  • Thieves may rent a house or get medical services using your name.
  • Thieves might also give your personal information to police during an arrest. Their failure to show up for their court date then results in a warrant for your arrest.

(continue on to Minimize Your Risk of Identity Theft)...

American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) offers consumer credit solutions ranging from debt counseling and debt consolidation relief, to pre-bankruptcy counseling and post-bankruptcy debtor education. If you are seeking debt consolidation options, ACCC offers a simple and effective consolidation program that's more prudent and beneficial than a debt settlement solution or taking out loans for debt consolidation. For personalized credit counseling advice and to learn about the best way to consolidate debt, contact an ACCC credit advisor today.

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