7 Common Methods of Identity Theft (And How to Avoid Them)

UPDATED: Nov. 21, 2017

Identity thieves use all sorts of tactics to obtain your personally identifiable information, which they then use for their own financial gain.

But knowledge is power — so in this blog post, we will share seven of the most common methods of identity theft so that you understand some of the steps you can take to stay safe.  

Remember — not all common identity theft scams are complex, involving hackers and ransomware or the like. Actually, thieves often try to keep things simple when they try to gain information.

Here are seven common methods of identity theft

1. Theft

Identity thieves often obtain your personal information by outright theft — stealing your wallet or purse; taking personally identifiable information from your home or business during a burglary; or nabbing your mail out of your mailbox. Mail theft is so common that oftentimes when an identity theft victim calls LibertyID Restoration Advocate Suzanne Ford and tells her about a slew of fraudulent accounts they just discovered, Ford tells them to immediately call the Post Office. Why? Because there’s a good chance the criminal also forwarded the victim’s mail.

“Full victim identity theft often goes hand in hand with a criminal forwarding the victim’s mail or putting a hold on it,” said Ford who had a case where this happened.

“I advised the client to go down to their postmaster and see if their mail had been forwarded,” Ford said.

“It turns out their mail was in the process of being delivered in New York. The postmaster in Tennessee got in touch with the postal carrier delivering it in New York and stopped it.  Thank goodness they caught it — the postman was about to deliver a big batch of mail,” including credit cards the identity thief had applied for, as well as bank statements and more. Read more instances of mail theft leading to identity theft here.

Ford recommends buying a lockable mailbox and going paperless. To read other tips about how to prevent identity theft, visit our blog post.

2. Phishing

Phishing scams are one of the most common types of identity theft scams. These attacks can occur through a phone call, text message, and even regular mail but most of the time they come via email. Often times phishing scams arrive via email looking like they were sent from a legitimate organization — Google, Chase, Dropbox or one of the other top 10 most impersonated sites or perhaps from a friend or family member (maybe their email was hacked).  The email will contain a link or website address designed to get you to share valuable personal info, like Social Security numbers, account numbers, login IDs and passwords. Learn more about the most common types of phishing and tips to stay safe by visiting our blog post.

3. Shoulder Surfing

Shoulder surfing can occur anytime you use your PIN or password to access your personal accounts. This occurs in public places such as the ATM, where the identity thief gets close enough to obtain your PIN and then records it for later use. This can also occur through video cameras that criminals use. Protect your identity by covering your PIN while you enter it, and by being aware of your surroundings. If it feels unsafe, then don’t use that ATM. This can also happen when using your debit card at a grocery or retail store.

4. Skimming

Skimming can occur anytime you physically swipe your credit card. A skimmer records data stored in the magnetic stripe of payment cards, which thieves can then use to make duplicate cards. This information enables the thief to make a copy of your card and make unauthorized transactions. To help minimize the damage of skimming, be sure to keep a close eye on your bank and credit card accounts and report any unauthorized transactions right away. There are also two steps you can take at the gas pump or ATM before inserting your card that could alert you to the presence of a skimming device.

5. Fake Job Offers/Employment Scams

In 2011, this was the No. 1 identity theft scam. To orchestrate this scam, crooks post job offers that look legit, and when applicants respond, the criminals ask for Social Security numbers for supposed credit checks, or bank account information which they claim is for setting up direct deposit — but instead of receiving the job or paycheck, the individual is scammed. Avoid becoming the next victim of this popular scam and do your homework before providing a “company” with personal information. These recruiter scams are often spread via LinkedIn or Craigslist. Read our blog post to learn four tips that could help you avoid such a scam.

6. Vishing (Voice Phishing)

Vishing is just like phishing, except it is done on the phone. The caller will pretend to be from your bank, credit card company, government agency, or other legitimate company, and they will try to obtain personal information from you such as your login information or Social Security number. Never give this information out over the phone — especially if the call is unsolicited. If you receive a suspicious call, call the company back at the phone number listed on their website or statement to confirm that it’s legit. Don’t dial the number that is given to you over the phone.

7. Dumpster Diving

When desperate enough, crooks won’t find dumpster diving beneath them. Make it difficult for thieves to gain access to your personal information by shredding important documents like health insurance information and bank statements (or anything with your personally identifiable information) before recycling them. This goes for electronic information as well — remove your hard drive when recycling, donating or trashing your old computer, smartphone, or other electronics that could contain valuable personal information. Not too concerned? Read this story about prison inmates who used donated computers for identity theft.

Huge Data Breaches Leave Everyone Vulnerable

Unfortunately, there are some folks who do everything right and still have their identity stolen. That’s because big data breaches, like the Equifax breach, have resulted in our names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth now residing in the hands of fraudsters. Even though the news headlines about Equifax have slowed, the lifelong risk remains.

Who would you call if you learned your identity had been stolen?

LibertyID provides expert, full service, fully managed identity theft restoration to individuals, couples, extended families* and businesses. LibertyID has a 100% success rate in resolving all forms of identity fraud on behalf of our subscribers.

*Extended families – primary individual, their spouse/partner, both sets of parents (including those that have been deceased for up to a year), and all children under the age of 25

Image: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier

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