Identity theft is a scary experience.
Our identity defines who we are, and losing it to a thief can feel devastating.
But discovering the theft is only the beginning. The road to repairing a stolen identity can take years, and the cost could be thousands of dollars.
Today, we’ll look at the most common types of identity theft. You’ll understand how the schemes work and what you can do to protect yourself.
But first, let’s make sure we’re clear on exactly what identity theft is.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when someone collects and uses your personal data to commit fraud. An example of identity theft would be a thief using your name and social security number to apply for a new credit card. The thief uses your credit history to steal money through loans and leaves you to pay the consequences.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, 34% of identity theft cases report losing money, and the median amount a victim loses is $311.
All told, identity theft losses in the United States totaled $56 billion in 2020, according to a report by Javelin.
And the problem is growing. The III reported that theft complaints increased by 113% from 2019 to 2020—making 2020 the year with the most complaints on record.
“34% of identity theft cases report losing money, and the median amount a victim loses is $311.”
We’ve broken down types of identity theft into two categories. The first is how thieves acquire your information and the second highlights the most common ways they use this data.
How identity thieves collect your information
Even if you think you’re safe, there are many ways thieves can get their hands on your personally identifying information. And many of them are outside of your control.
Here are some of the most common ways thieves can collect your personal information.
01. Phone calls and texts
As hacking and phishing scams become more difficult to perform, thieves are finding success with identity fraud scams. With this method, scammers pose as authority figures like bank employees, contact the victim directly, and ask for sensitive information.
Identity fraud scams are the most popular type of ID fraud, making up 77% of ID fraud in 2020.
Unfortunately, the outlook is not good once you’ve given information to a thief. In a 2021 study, 82% of victims who gave personal or financial information to a fraudster within the past three years said the issue was still unresolved.
02. Social media
- A newer trend in cybercrime is using social media for ID theft. Fraud victims are more likely than the general population to use social media platforms.
- It’s a good idea not to share private information, like your birth date, on social media sites. Also, consider keeping your accounts private to restrict access to your personal photos, videos, and other posts.
03. Government benefit fraud
- Government benefit fraud was the top-reported type of identity theft in 2020, with nearly 400,000 cases reported to the FTC. This shift happened due to fraud with COVID-19 stimulus checks.
- Fraudsters call victims posing as IRS or bank employees and request personal details they claim necessary to receive a stimulus check.
- If you get a call from a government agency or bank requesting details, don’t answer or return the call. Instead, look up the official number listed on the agency or bank’s website and call to confirm the request.