Fighting Financial Identity Theft

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month continues to educate consumers about the need to secure their data, and the National Cybersecurity Alliance has provided different themes for each week of the month-long October campaign. This week, NCSAM is helping consumers to learn how to recognize and combat cybercrime.

When consumers think of identity theft, they’re probably actually thinking of financial identity theft. And even though there are a wide variety of ways someone can use your identifying information for harm, the most commonly reported type of the crime—based on victim reports to the Identity Theft Resource Center—involves existing financial accounts that were used fraudulently or new accounts that were opened without the victim’s knowledge.

For decades, financial identity theft typically involved stealing someone’s credit card number or bank account number, then making purchases without the victim’s consent. Thieves also sought out those discarded junk mail offers for new credit cards and used them to open new accounts in their victims’ names.

Now, new account fraud is affecting more and more identity theft victims; in fact, the results of the 2016 Aftermath survey found that in 2015 new account fraud had happened to 60% of survey respondents, which is a 6% increase over the previous year. What makes new accounts so much more enticing to identity thieves than existing accounts?

The first answer is that the victim has no knowledge of this account, and therefore won’t be checking it online, looking over their credit card bills, or receiving fraud alerts from their financial institution. In short, opening a new account gives the criminal a longer window to commit fraud than using an existing account. If the victim doesn’t discover the new account—either by checking their credit reports, being contacted by debt collectors, or being turned down for a legitimate new account of their own—then the criminal can potentially use their information for years.

Another likely culprit in the rise of new account fraud is the abundance of Social Security numbers that have been stolen in large-scale data breaches. In order to open a new account, the thief has to have enough pieces of the victim’s identity; with  millions of records being compromised in data breaches each year, finding complete records is becoming easier and easier for criminals. Once a victim’s personally identifiable information has been stolen, it can be used over and over again.

Fortunately, it’s never been easier to stay on top of your credit report and monitor it for any signs of fraud. Consumers are entitled to receiving their free credit report every year from each of the three major reporting agencies.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

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