When people think about identity theft, they tend to envision credit card fraud, check fraud or other crimes that can affect their finances. The reality is identity theft crimes fall into several different categories, mostly based on what a thief is after.

While financial identity theft is still one of the most prevalent forms of crime, other types—such as child identity theft, medical identity theft, and even criminal identity theft—are just as harmful. One particularly harmful form of identity theft is known as government identity theft, which manifests itself in different ways based on the use of someone’s government-issued identification or benefits. Here are a few examples, and what to know about government identity theft:

Tax Return Fraud

If a thief manages to get a hold of someone’s personally identifiable information, opening a new credit card is the least of his or her worries. With a Social Security number, an identity thief can file a fraudulent tax return, stealing any potential refund and causing a lot of headaches down the road. Even worse, it can happen every year. In 2019 the IRS reported over 3,500 fraudulent tax returns with nearly $16 million claimed in fraudulent refunds. 

Fraudulent Employment

No one likes the thought of someone pretending to be them, but most people don’t give much thought to someone pretending to be them in order to get a job.  Fraudulent employment means a person’s W2 statements at the end of the calendar year will reflect that they earned more money than they actually did, impacting the taxes owed. It can also potentially land a person in hot water if they are receiving government benefits. If someone is drawing unemployment insurance or if they have been placed on medical restrictions and are drawing disability insurance benefits, it won’t be long before someone comes to collect those funds back due to their “other” job.

Benefits Fraud

Government identity theft is a very common form of it is the fraudulent use of someone’s information to apply for various federal assistance programs. SNAP benefits (commonly referred to as “food stamps”), unemployment benefits, disability benefits or Social Security benefits are all targets. The fundamental problem is that a person’s information is tied to assistance payouts for which they are not receiving. The biggest concern is that the same person could find themselves legitimately in need of these benefits, but will not receive them because they have already been claimed.

One way to put up barriers to government identity theft is to make sure people are safeguarding their information, particularly their Social Security number. Individuals should not carry their Social Security card with them and should never give out their Social Security number unless there is a legitimate reason. Consumers should make sure they are looking over all of their employment records, accounts, and billing statements regularly and very carefully and report any suspicious activity immediately.

If someone is a victim of government identity theft, they can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. They can also live-chat with an expert advisor.

For on-the-go assistance, people can check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.


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Each year, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reflects on the previous year’s exploits and anticipates trends for the next. When we first published our thoughts on 2020 back in December, it was stated that we anticipated the identity theft trends for 2020 would include 2020 being the year for privacy. While privacy remains an important topic, the recent changes in the landscape with other cyber issues have changed the conversation.

Data Breaches in Overdrive

Data breaches have continued to occur and the ITRC believes hackers and scammers will shift things into overdrive due to the amount of money that is about to flow through the economy, creating a redistribution of assets.

The coronavirus has forced most companies and their employees to work remotely. While that used to be a luxury, it is the new normal for many who previously haven’t had the experience. That has created a whole new challenge for companies, platforms, service providers and each individual employee.

In this post-COVID-19 shift, the ITRC anticipates breaches will continue to occur at an increased rate, both the number of breaches and the number of records exposed in a single incident. Given that there are a lot of new users that are creating an increase in user-data being housed in databases, it’s easy to see why this will be a potential outcome as a result of shifting workforces.

Increase in User Vulnerabilities Exposed

Security deficiencies are exposed daily, and more rapidly, because of the sheer volume of use of platforms. No one anticipated all of the vulnerabilities that would have to be fixed due to the increase in use. The ITRC has seen a massive shift in those priorities.

Now, issues that might have been well down the road to update need immediate attention because of how organizations have had to shift their use of products and services. Also, those providing those products and services must address the issues now to maintain the integrity of their users’ data.

There are other vulnerabilities with the new remote workforce that will be exploited as they become apparent over the course of the coming weeks and months.

Cybersecurity Issues Exacerbated by Remote Work

The previous 2020 identity theft trends that the ITRC predicted, in all likelihood, will happen. What is now new are the challenges that shifting to remote work as the primary method of working due to COVID-19 entail. All of the problems like ransomware, phishing attacks and patching are still going to be issues. However, they will be exacerbated by this shift in business being done by remote individuals. People who are not accustomed to working from home will be easy prey for hackers and scammers to exploit because of their lack of familiarity with platforms and processes.

Adding to that, companies that moved to stand up a remote workforce quickly may not have the proper policies, processes and employee training in place to guide their workers.

ITRC Is Here For You

Predictions like the 2020 identity theft trends are only educated guesses, based on previous events and information. Businesses, policymakers and the public will have to wait and see how the 2020 trends for identity theft, cybercrime and data privacy play out. Regardless of what happens the rest of 2020, the ITRC will be available, working to teach each person how to fight back against the techniques scammers will use to commit identity theft and support victims through the process of regaining their identities.

For a complete look at the ITRC’s 2019 Data Breach Report, click here.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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With the REAL ID deadline approaching in October, it is time to determine if you should replace your current government- issued ID, as well as be aware of any scams that may pop around near the time of the change.

What is a REAL ID?

Fifteen years ago, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which set a uniform standard for how individual states issue driver’s licenses and state IDs. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, each state determined the requirements on how to prove your identity and address when applying for identity documents. Once the ID was issued, it was automatically valid in all other states. Because the 9/11 hijackers used legal, state-issued IDs in their attacks, the federal government created guidelines to standardize the credentials required to travel by air or enter federal government buildings.

After numerous delays in the 15 years since the law was enacted, U.S. residents must now decide if they need a REAL ID or to keep their current state-government issues ID.

What To Consider

It’s important to consider your circumstances and if you truly need a REAL ID. If you are planning to travel domestically by commercial airline within the United States, you will need the enhanced ID. However, if you are NOT planning to travel within the U.S. by air or enter a federal government building, then your regular state identification card or Driver’s License is still valid. If your license is valid—whether it is a REAL ID or not—you will still be able to use it as a form of identification for activities like writing a check.

Important Steps

There are some important steps in order to obtain a REAL ID in your state, as well as specific documents you must have. Be sure to check with your state’s DMV or state police website in order to find out what you must bring with you. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), “At a minimum, you must provide documentation showing:  1) Full Legal Name; 2) Date of Birth; 3) Social Security Number; 4) Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence; and 5) Lawful Status.”

For example, to apply for the REAL ID card in California, you need to present one identity document that includes your date of birth and true full name. That could include:

  • Valid, unexpired U.S. passport or passport card
  • Original or Certified copy of U.S birth certificate (issued by a city, county or state vital statistics office). “Abbreviated” or “Abstract” certificates are NOT accepted
  • U.S. Certificate of Birth Abroad or Consular Report of Birth Abroad of U.S. Citizen
  • Unexpired foreign passport with valid U.S. Visa and approved I-94 form
  • Certified copy of birth certificate from a U.S. Territory
  • Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of U.S. Citizenship
  • Valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card
  • Valid, unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card (I-766) or valid/expired EAD Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C)
  • Valid/expired Permanent Resident Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C) or Approval Notice (I-797)
  • Unexpired foreign passport stamped “Processed for I-551”
  • Documents reflecting TPS benefit eligibility

Potential Scams

With any change in government processes, scammers will try to take advantage. Be on your guard against fraud and hoaxes with the REAL ID deadline approaching.

For example, you cannot upgrade your license or ID over the phone, you will not be required to pay a fee or fine for not having a REAL ID and you will never be asked for the information on your license.

You will not receive a fine from the police for driving with a license that is not a REAL ID as long as it is valid. Also, you cannot be turned away at a polling place if you are a registered voter.

When in doubt, simply reach out to your local agency that issues REAL IDs for more information.

Data Storage & Protection

Once you are done with the process of applying for your REAL ID, don’t forget about data storage and protection. Important papers like your W-2 form, Social Security Administration card and other documents (even your devices) should never be unattended, even in a locked vehicle. Once you get home, it is also important to lock up your documents in a safe place to keep people—even people you thought you could trust—from accessing it. This could be a locked filing cabinet or firebox.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you can call the Identity Theft Resource Center toll free at 888.400.5530 to speak with one of our advisors or live chat with an advisor on our website. They will help you create an action plan for your case while directing you on the next steps you need to take.


For on-the-go identity assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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After a couple of years away from the top of the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, identity theft reports have returned to the top spot.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accepts agency, business and consumer-submitted reports of scams, fraud and other related crimes. They then compile those reports into a large online database called the Consumer Sentinel Network. This database is available to law enforcement around the country. When compiling the report each year, the FTC also maps the types of crimes that consumers submit and shares that data with the public.

The FTC received over 3.2 million reports of which the top three categories including identity theft, imposter scams, and telephone & mobile services. Identity theft encompasses a number of different types of crime, largely based on how the thief stole the information and what they did with it. For example, medical identity theft occurs when the thief uses stolen information and poses as a patient to receive medical care or pharmaceuticals. Government identity theft occurs when someone uses the stolen data to apply for government benefits, file a fraudulent tax return and other crimes. Child identity theft, as the name implies, happens when the victim is a child with a clean credit report or is not receiving government benefits and someone uses their Social Security number and information.

Just because other crimes eclipsed identity theft reports for a couple of years does not mean the number of incidents were insignificant. It only means that other crimes were more prevalent. Now, with identity theft reports returning to such a prominent position, it should serve as a warning to the public that all forms of identity theft, fraud and scams continue to be serious problems.

However, there are ways you can protect your identity:

  • Place a freeze on your credit report. If your data has ever been compromised in a data breach, this is an especially good idea. It is now free, but keep in mind that if you need to thaw your credit, it can take several days.
  • Enable alerts on all of your financial accounts and cards. These alerts will let you know if someone has infiltrated your existing accounts and managed to use them.
  • Practice good password hygiene. A password can only protect you if it is strong—with at least eight digits and a combination of unguessable letters, numbers and symbols—and only used on one account. It is also a good idea to change your passwords regularly to prevent anyone who discovered old login credentials from accessing your accounts.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you can call the Identity Theft Resource Center toll free at 888.400.5530 to speak with one of our advisors or live-chat with an advisor on our website. They will help you create an action plan for your case while directing you on the next steps you need to take.


For on-the-go identity assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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Once the decorations are put away and the confetti is swept up, the start of a brand-new year opens up before us. However, among all the goodwill about new beginnings and fresh starts, there is an age-old task waiting for you that is not very pleasant: tax filing.

Somehow, the old year is not over just yet. You have to file the previous year’s returns by April 15, and you might notice that the paperwork starts to trickle in all during the month of January. Do not be tempted to toss it in a drawer or push it aside. Experts have warned that tax filing as soon as you possibly can is a good way to protect your identity and your refund.

Tax return fraud has been a major issue for many years, and it can happen to any taxpayer. The high rate of personally identifiable information that is available for thieves to use, thanks to data breaches or purchasing entire identity records on the Dark Web, contributes to the problem. Essentially, a thief files a fake tax return using your name, Social Security number and other details about you. They have the bogus refund issued to a prepaid debit card, and their work is done. When you attempt to file your own legitimate return, it gets rejected for being a duplicate.

It gets worse. Not only are you out your refund, your information is now associated with this tax return fraud. Even worse, you still have to file your correct return in a timely fashion or face penalties.

Fortunately, you are not powerless to stop a faceless criminal here. The best way to prevent tax return fraud is to simply beat the criminal to it. If you can get your return filed before they do it, yours will be the legitimate return and theirs will be the rejected duplicate.

Of course, you cannot get to tax filing until all of your documentation arrives, and legally that can take until January 31. That is why now is the time to start gathering any paperwork you will need, deciding on how you will prepare (at home with forms or software, or with a professional preparer) and getting ready to check off this important box.

Tax filing early has the added benefit of getting any refunds you are owed that much sooner. Do not put off tax filing as just another hassle or chore. Protect yourself this year by getting it out of the way.

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2020 Trends for Identity Theft, Data Privacy, and Cybersecurity

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The holidays have past and a new year is upon us. With that, New Year’s resolutions are beginning to surface. Some resolutions might include going to the gym every day, spending less time on social media or creating a budget you can actually stick to next year. While some of those resolutions might be more realistic than others, there are some practical resolutions you can make that will be even more beneficial. And it’s all based on protecting your identity… In 2019, the Identity Theft Resource Center saw the number of data breaches reported continue to rise. In fact, the ITRC has now recorded over 10,000 data breaches since 2005, hitting the mark this past calendar year. 2019 also saw the announcement of large-scale data breaches like Capital One and healthcare providers and insurance companies continue to be one of the hardest-hit targets, thanks to the overwhelming amount of personally identifiable information (PII) they gather. So what is your New Year’s resolution heading into 2020? If you do not have one, or even if you do, consider making some 2020 identity theft New Year’s resolutions to make your personal data as safe as you can. You can protect your privacy through your simple, everyday habits.

Resolution One: Be Aware of What You Post on Social Media and What You Share

If you are connected online through any of the several social media platforms, you need to know how they work and how to keep your information private.

  • Enact practices that include not oversharing information and change your settings to private.
  • Use different passwords for each social media account.
  • Create strong and unique passwords that include two-factor authentication.

Resolution Two: Guard Your Data

One of your 2020 identity theft New Year’s resolutions should include keeping better tabs on your PII. Do not just turn over your Social Security number without asking why they need it and verifying their plans to protect it. A lot of organizations still ask for it simply out of habit. However, your SSN was designed as a tax identification number, and by law is not to be used for everyday identification purposes.

Resolution Three: Know the Latest Scams and Help Others Stay Alert Too

Fraudsters are always trying to find new ways to attack. That is why it is so important for consumers to stay up-to-date on all of the latest scams, fraud attempts and identity theft information. You can check in with the ITRC for the latest information by signing up for the TMI (Too Much Information) Weekly and following the ITRC on Facebook and Twitter. Once you know about the latest threats, you can help spread the word with friends and family.

Resolution Four: Adopt Good Cyber Hygiene Habits

While 2019 was the year of data, 2020 will be the year of privacy. That is one reason why your 2020 identity theft New Year’s resolutions should include good privacy habits. While data breach fatigue is a recognized phenomenon, the flip side is paranoia that makes you want to unplug and go off the grid. Neither is a solution. Rather, the solution is good privacy habits:

Resolution Five: Watch Out Account Hacks from Credential Stuffing

In 2019 we saw numerous data breaches and account hacks from credential stuffing. Disney+ users saw their accounts sold online after hackers were able to infiltrate their accounts and change the passwords to lock users out. Earlier in the year, TurboTax announced a data breach that was caused by credential stuffing. Consumers need to be sure they are consistently changing their usernames and passwords to reduce the risk of credential stuffing and having any accounts hacked. The unfortunate truth is that some identity theft crimes are unpreventable. However, these 2020 identity theft New Year’s resolutions are steps you can take that will reduce your risk of falling victim to identity theft and increase the likelihood of you spotting a problem quickly. The ITRC is always here to help. Call us toll-free at 888.400.5530 or live-chat with one of our advisors.

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2020 Trends for Identity Theft, Data Privacy, and Cybersecurity

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2019 has come and gone and it is time to jump into the future and look at the 2020 trends for identity theft.

Looking Back at Our 2019 Predictions

First, when we look back at our 2019 predictions, there is one particular prediction that came true. In 2019 we predicted that other states would follow California’s lead and pass their own privacy legislation. New York proposed the New York Privacy Act and, in some ways, it was more potent than California’s law. The exemptions for non-profits and small businesses were gone and the private right of action, the ability for individuals to some companies directly, were included. While it is unknown what the final form or outcome of New York’s legislation will be, it is one of the reasons we think the privacy conversation has finally reached its tipping point.

The Long Road to Privacy

The theme of 2019 was data and 2020’s will end up being privacy. People care about privacy. If you ask anyone on the street if they care about privacy, most will tell you they do. However, when they are presented with real-world scenarios, they usually do not adopt behaviors that would be considered privacy-centric. According to Pew Research, 80 percent of social media users are concerned about their privacy. The study goes on to shed light on why our feelings are so complicated when it comes to privacy. With that being said, these are social media users. They continue to use these platforms for a variety of different reasons, despite all of their concerns. Not very many people would drive their car if something was wrong with it until they fixed it. It would not be 80 percent, that is for sure. Why is it any different with social media users and their accounts? While it might seem nonsensical to compare vehicle safety to privacy, it isn’t. Consumers simply do not think of privacy as a safety issue – even though it is. As a society, we do not value privacy the way it needs to be valued. The good news is that the ITRC believes the 2020 trends around identity theft, data privacy and cybersecurity will include more conversations around the safety issue that is created when we do not fully understand when our privacy is violated, or what that even means. Perhaps 2020 will be the year where we don’t just say we care about our privacy but actually behave in a manner that supports it.

Data Breaches at the Forefront

As in years past, data breaches were also at the forefront in 2019. We saw too many of them as a result of open databases. Best Western recently experienced a data breach from an open database that exposed over 21 million government records. Choice Hotels and Adobe also experienced similar breaches in 2019. It is something that could continue to happen in 2020 because more businesses are moving to cloud-based databases. Many times the security of the database relies on the inherent security settings, which may or may not be robust, rather than custom security settings. We also saw numerous data breaches from credential stuffing in 2019. Some Disney+ users saw their accounts sold online after hackers were able to infiltrate their accounts and change the passwords to lock out account owners before posting the credentials online for others to use or buy. Earlier in the year, it was TurboTax announcing a data breach that was caused by credential stuffing. Consumers need to watch out for data breaches and account hacks from credential stuffing in 2020. They will need to take the steps to protect their privacy (change usernames and passwords, use strong passwords, etc.) for us to see fewer of these types of breaches and lessen their impact. It’s ITRC’s hope that the conversations around privacy issues will help decrease the incidents of data breaches and account hacks based around credential stuffing and grow to be fewer in the years to come.

ITRC is Here For You

Predictions are only an educated guess that are based on previous events and information. Industries, policymakers and the public will have to wait and see how the 2020 trends for identity theft, cybercrime and data privacy play out. Regardless of what happens in 2020, the ITRC will be here, working to fight back against the techniques scammers will be using to commit identity theft and supporting victims through the process of regaining their identities.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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2019 Identity Crime Wrap-up

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As this year winds down, it is important to spend a little time reflecting on the 2019 identity crimes, some of the things that went right in 2019 and the things that did not go as well. This is true for so many subjects, especially identity crime – which includes scams, fraud, data breaches, cybercrime and all of the other types of crimes that go with it.

Fallout from 2018

As in previous years, this past year has been a big one for these kinds of crimes. Tech users are still feeling the aftermath of things like the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica privacy debacle that was uncovered last year; Congress is still at work on what to do about consumer privacy in the social media age. Also, the news that phishing attacks more than doubled last year over the year before had researchers, businesses, lawmakers and consumers alike paying closer attention to the messages they receive.

What Went Right in 2019

Fortunately, new legislation has come along to make our privacy lives a little safer. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulations went into effect in Europe last year, for example, and they inflict strict penalties on businesses that gather and store data but let it fall into the wrong hands. New laws in California and Colorado will be taking effect soon, intent on strengthening privacy and consumer choice. Best of all, the awareness of what constitutes these kinds of crimes and how to recognize them is increasing.

Top Security Incidents of 2019

However, this welcome news does not mean that consumers are safe or that hackers are finally giving up. With every new platform, tool or technology, there is even greater potential for new avenues of attack. Healthcare providers and insurance companies continued to be one of the hardest-hit targets this year, thanks to the overwhelming amount of personally identifiable information (PII) they gather. “Accidental exposure” breaches were a common 2019 identity crime for major-name companies, which happens when businesses store huge databases of private information – in an online server then fail to password protect it as an example. Even our entertainment was not safe, as many apps and online gaming portals suffered data breaches that were traced back to reusing passwords on multiple sites.

2019 did not just see a lot of large data breaches, but settlements as well.

Equifax Settlement

In July, Equifax reached a $700 million settlement for harms caused by their data breach. Equifax agreed to spend $425 million to help victims of the breach, leading to lots of discussion on how to file a claim.

Facebook Settlement

While the Equifax settlement was the largest in data breach history to date, Facebook blew it out of the water just two days later, as they were ordered to pay $5 billion. After the settlement, Facebook said it required a “fundamental shift” in Facebook’s approach at every level of the company in terms of their privacy.

Yahoo Settlement

A month and a half later a Yahoo data breach settlement was proposed for $117.5 million after over three billion Yahoo accounts were exposed. Identity Theft Resource Center CEO, Eva Velasquez, stated in a media alert that the settlement trend is moving the needle in the right direction for both consumers and victims. However, that was not without its challenges, including putting the onus on the consumer to tell the settlement administrators how they were harmed and provide proof of it.

10,000 Breaches Reported

This past year the Identity Theft Resouce Center also recorded 10,000 publicly-notified data breaches since 2005. As part of the milestone, the ITRC took a look back at some of the top breaches the last 15 years as part of our 10,000 Breaches Later blog series.

Minimizing Future Risks

While data breach fatigue is a recognized phenomenon, one that can occur when consumers are bombarded with constant news about their data being compromised, the flip side is the kind of paranoia that makes you want to unplug and go live off the grid. However, neither of those is the solution. What does work is an awareness of the threat and some good privacy habits to prevent crimes like the 2019 identity crimes:

We’re Here to Help

Remember, you are not responsible for the criminal behaviors of a hacker. However, you can take steps that reduce your risk of becoming a victim and help minimize the damage if the worst does occur. The Identity Theft Resource Center is always here to help. Call us toll-free at 888.400.5530 or live-chat with one of our advisors.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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