Identity theft is more common in the U.S. than consumers may realize. It occurs when a consumer’s personal information, including their name, social security number or other identifying data is stolen and used fraudulently.
Common types of identity theft
Identity thieves may use the victim’s information to file a tax return, purchase items, open credit cards, establish bank accounts and apply for loans. Financial identity theft is the most common form of identity theft.
Medical identity theft is also common. This occurs when a person uses a victim’s personal information to obtain medical care in the victim’s name. Consumers should review any explanation of benefits they receive from their health insurance company to ensure there are no unfamiliar charges.
Employment identity theft may happen when an employer requires an applicant to provide a credit card or bank account number for the purposes of a background check or as part of the job application. Consumers should be wary of providing this information.
Synthetic identity theft is when a victim’s information is used to create a fake identity, including generating false identification cards.
Reducing the risk
There are several ways consumers can reduce their risk of identity theft. These include keeping personal information in a safe place, providing their social security number only when it is necessary, protecting their computer with anti-virus software, changing their account numbers often and checking their credit report annually.
Despite these precautions, identity theft happens commonly and is not the consumer’s fault. If a person is a victim of identity theft, an experienced consumer protection attorney can provide advice and representation.