Q: What is identity theft?
A: Identity theft occurs when someone else uses your personal identifying information, or PII, for financial or personal gain.
Q: What is PII?
A: PII is “personally identifying information “and it can encompass a variety of pieces of information about you. Some PII is considered more sensitive, such as your Social Security number, driver’s license number, and financial account numbers. It should also be noted that your online login credential, passwords, and credit card numbers are also considered PII. The bottom line is that PII is information that is used to identify or authentic YOU and it can be used by a thief to commit identity theft.
Q: Are there different types of identity theft?
A: Yes. The ITRC defines several different categories of identity theft: financial, criminal, medical, governmental, and child.
Financial identity theft occurs when your information is used to open new financial accounts or takeover existing financial accounts. This could include but is not limited to credit cards, home or auto loans, student loans, utility accounts or cell phone accounts.
Criminal identity theft occurs when an imposter provides another person’s PII to law enforcement during an investigation or upon arrest. This includes the use of counterfeit documents using another person’s information. The imposter may fraudulently obtain a driver’s license or identification card in the victim’s name and provide that identification document to law enforcement. Or, the imposter, without showing any photo identification, verbally provides the name and personal information of another individual.
Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity to obtain medical treatment. It could be anything from a simple office visit to an involved or lengthy treatment plan, although there are connections to patients who commit identity theft in order to gain high-volume prescriptions for controlled substances like narcotic pain medicines.
Government identity theft occurs when your PII is used by thieves to commit government tax fraud, employment fraud, or other types of government benefits fraud. It could include using another person’s PII to file a false tax return, receive unemployment payments, or even SNAP benefits.
Child identity theft is defined as any of the above, but using a child’s PII. Children’s PII is especially lucrative to identity thieves because there is less risk of the parent discovering suspicious activity on their criminal records or credit reports.
Q: If I’m a victim of a data breach, am I automatically a victim of identity theft?
A: No, not automatically. If you receive a data breach notification it means that your information has been compromised. It does not necessarily mean that is being used (yet) to commit identity theft. You should continue to practice good identity hygiene in order to detect the misuse of your information as quickly as possible. The sooner you detect it, the less time there is for the identity thief to do any damage.
Q: Can someone steal my identity with my just my credit card number? How about with my driver’s license?
A: The reality is a thief can do a fair amount of harm to your identity even with limited information. It is possible for a thief to present your driver’s license, or a phony license with your information but the thieves’ photograph, to law enforcement during the commission of a crime. It’s possible for a thief to rack up charges on your existing credit card account as well. It is not possible for someone to open NEW lines of credit without having your Social Security number.
Q: What makes someone more likely to be a victim of identity theft than someone else?
A: ANYONE can become a victim. It crosses all ages and demographics. According to the FTC and the ITRC’s Identity Theft: The Aftermath study, all age ranges are affected somewhat uniformly. Income level also doesn’t have an effect – people from all walks of life can become victims. But everyone has certain vulnerabilities based upon who they are and how they live their lives.
Click here for tips on how to minimize your risk.
Click here for a list of warning signs for identity theft.