When someone fraudulently used your personal identifying information to their own purposes, that is identity theft, whether it is to obtain credit, get a loan, open a bank or credit card account or obtain an I.D. card.
If you become the victim of identity theft, chances are it will cause severe damage to your finances and your good name, especially if you do not find out about it immediately. Even if you catch it quickly, you can spend months and thousands of dollars trying to repair the damage done to your credit rating.
You can even find yourself accused of a crime you did not commit because someone used your personal identifying information to perpetrate the crime in your name.
Consequently, it is important in today's electronic age to protect your information as best you can. Unfortunately, there are thieves out there just waiting for you to make a mistake or get careless.
How Do Identity Thieves Get Your Information?
Here are the most common methods identity use to obtain your personal identifying information, according to the Arizona Attorney General's office:
- Finding personal information you share on the Internet.
- "Dumpster diving" or going through your trash looking for personal information.
- Stealing your mail.
- Stealing your wallet or purse.
- Stealing your debit or credit card numbers through "skimming," using a data storage device to capture the information at an ATM or during an actual purchase.
- "Phishing," a scam in which the identity thief sends an email falsely claiming to be from a legitimate organization, government agency or bank to lure the victim into surrendering personal information such as a bank account number, credit card number or passwords. Often the email will send you to a phony or spoof website that looks just like the real business or government agency – only an expert can tell the difference.
- Obtaining your credit report through posing as your employer or landlord.
- "Business record theft" involves the theft of files, hacking into electronic files or bribing an employee for access to files at a business.
- Going through the trash of a business to get employee records, customer information and register receipts.
- Diverting your mail to another location by filling out a "change of address" form.