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

While financial identity theft is still one of the most prevalent forms of the crime, other types—such as child identity theft, medical identity theft, and even criminal identity theft—are just as harmful. One of the fastest growing forms of identity theft is known as government identity theft, which covers a lot of different scenarios based on what the thief does with your stolen information. Here are a few examples:

  1. Tax return fraud – The reason government identity theft is on the rise might very well be attributed to this single form of fraud. Industry watchers and consumer agencies alike have discovered that tax return fraud accounted for almost half of the identity theft complaints in 2015, with nearly 300,000 reported cases to one agency alone. If a thief manages to get a hold of your personal identifiable information, opening a new credit card is the least of your worries. With your Social Security number, an identity thief can file a fraudulent tax return in your name, stealing your refund and causing you a lot of headaches down the road. The worst part? He can do it every year.
  1. Employment fraud – No one likes the thought of someone pretending to be them, but you might not have given much thought to someone pretending to be you in order to get a job. And while it might not be as scary as someone breaking the law in your name or using your identity to steal prescription drugs, the fact of employment fraud is that your W2 statements at the end of the calendar year will reflect that you earned far more money than you actually did…a whole other job’s worth. That could have a serious impact on the taxes you owe, but could also land you in hot water if you’re receiving other forms of benefits. If you’re actually unemployed and drawing unemployment insurance, or if you’ve 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 your “other” job.
  1. Benefits fraud – A very common form of government identity theft is the fraudulent use of your information to apply for various assistance programs. It could be SNAP benefits (commonly referred to as “food stamps”), unemployment benefits, disability benefits, even Social Security benefits; if your child’s identity has been stolen, the thief could be using your child’s identity to qualify for free or reduced meals through the school’s nutrition program, claim SSI benefits or medical benefits, or other similar scenarios. The fundamental problem is that your information is tied to assistance payouts for which you’re not receiving and may not even qualify for. The other major issue is that you could find yourself legitimately in need of these benefits, but you won’t receive them because “you” are already claiming them.

In order to protect yourself from government identity theft, make sure you’re safeguarding your information very closely. Don’t carry your Social Security card with you, and never give out your SSN unless there is a clear reason why someone needs it. If you know you’ve already been the victim of a data breach or identity theft crime, make sure you’re keeping close tabs on any documentation you receive. Finally, make sure you’re looking over all of your employment records, accounts, and billing statements very carefully and report any suspicious activity immediately.

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.