Identity Theft

Old School Identity Theft Is Still a Threat

Tactics like check washing, stealing mail, and snatching wallets or driver’s licenses can still lead a thief to your information and your finances.

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Phone Hijacking: The Latest Identity Theft Threat

Security experts have warned consumers for years that their smartphones could be an easy gateway to their identities.

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IRS Warns about a Tax Scam Before Criminals Can Strike

The IRS is inundated with scam activity every year, from fraudulently filed tax returns to tax refund theft to victim calls about threatening phone calls. There is so much tax-related scam activity, in fact, that this year the agency is issuing widespread warnings about what the public can do to help minimize the threat.

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Phone Hijacking: The Latest Identity Theft Threat

Security experts have warned consumers for years that their smartphones could be an easy gateway to their identities.

Think of it this way: a thief grabs your phone or someone picks it up in a coffee shop where you’ve left it. If you haven’t passcode protected it or it was still unlocked, they now have access to your email, your Amazon app, your PayPal app, your social media apps, your mobile wallet, and more, all with a few simple password changes.

Clicking “forgot my password” provides them with a link that’s sent to your email or phone number, which they now have access to. A quick browse through your social media might even provide them with the answers to your security questions, such as your mother’s maiden name and the town where you were born. They change all of your passwords and go on a spending spree, all while locking you out.

But experts are now warning about an entirely new threat involving your phone. Phone hijacking, as it’s been called, is technically a form of account takeover. A thief walks into a mobile carrier store and pretends to be you. With a few simple steps, they upgrade your account and walk out with a couple of brand-new iPhones. You only discover the problem when your real phone stops working because the number has been transferred to those new phones…or when the bill for those phones arrives.

This might sound like a random crime of opportunity, but the reality is smartphone hijacking doubled in 2016, and the damage from all forms of account takeover reached well over $2 billion that year.

How are thieves pulling this off? First, there’s a lot of information about consumers floating around “out there.” Seemingly harmless information like your email address and cell phone number aren’t so harmless when a criminal gets just a couple more pieces of information. If you’ve used your email address as your cellular account username, it only takes buying your data off the internet to see if you’ve reused an old password.

Stealing or buying other pieces of data like your medical account information can also help a thief hijack your phone. After all, these records often include a Social Security number, your date of birth, address, email address, and other pertinent details, which could be enough to recreate a driver’s license and convince a cellular employee to upgrade your phone.

To fight back against this kind of crime, consumers have to be prepared to adopt some proactive habits. First, this is precisely why you never reuse a password. In data breaches like the MySpace breach or the Yahoo breach that compromised a database of years’-old information, those old passwords can come back to haunt you if you’re still using them.

Next, it’s absolutely vital that you take action the second you spot something out of the ordinary. Some victims of phone hijacking have reported that they received “changed password” emails from their providers, or that their phones quit working right. Those are giant red flags that must be addressed immediately.

Finally, do not make the mistake of thinking, “Well, it’s just a phone. We’ll figure it out later.” As mentioned above, your phone contains a lot of access to the rest of your identity. Don’t dismiss these warning signs without following through.


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.

Read next: It’s Tax Time…Tips To Protect Your Identity

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Article Archives

Synthetic ID Fraud: Piecing Together an Identity

Posted by Eva Velasquez, CEO, Identity Theft Resource Center

It feels like criminals are one step ahead of the latest loss preventive strategies, and that may very well be the most accurate assessment of crimes like identity theft. Synthetic identity fraud a newer form of identity theft, is already believed to be responsible for about $6 billion in theft in 2016 alone, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week 2018

Scammers and identity thieves have been gearing up for this time of year for a while now in hopes of stealing your refund before you ever get around to filing.

Identity Protection Challenges in 2018

As one year comes to a close and another one looms on the horizon, it’s that time when industries release predictions for the coming year. The identity theft and personal data security industries are no different, only these predictions are based on the slew of advancements—both in new consumer technology and in hacker capabilities—that have come to pass in the year behind us.

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