Identity theft happens when someone steals your personally-identifiable information (e.g., your Social Security number, credit card info, etc.) and uses it without your permission. With more of our information than ever online and in the hands of corporations, identity theft is a fast-growing crisis. Cyber attackers will often target websites, companies or other stores of personally-identifiable information, and use the stolen data to commit identity fraud (or sell it to someone for that purpose).
Using Personal Info To Act As Someone Else
There are several reasons criminals would want to steal information to act as someone else. Identity fraudsters can use your stolen information to open new accounts, lines of credit, make purchases at your expense, file bogus insurance claims, steal your tax refund, or obtain ID documents like passports, visas or driver’s licenses in your name.
Identity theft can be a catastrophic incident for victims, often forcing them to go through lengthy and expensive processes in order to regain control of their life. Even then, victims may suffer damages to their credit, financial security or reputation long after the identity theft is identified and stopped.
Warning Signs Of Identity Theft
If you are the victim of identity theft, it is vitally important that you identify it and take countermeasures as soon as possible. For that reason, it is important to stay vigilant against any warning signs of identity theft. Some most common warning signs are:
- Missing bills, paychecks or other mail
- Unrecognized/unauthorized transactions on your cards or accounts
- Bills or notifications for cards or accounts you did not open
- Unexplained drops in credit rating
- Tax filings are denied
- Insurance or healthcare bills you never incurred
How Hackers & Scammers Steal Identities
Hackers and scammers have a multitude of avenues at their disposal for obtaining personally-identifiable information.
Data Breaches & Ransomware
Data breaches and ransomware events that steal or compromise sensitive data are becoming increasingly commonplace. In 2020 alone, there have been 11,762 breaches, exposing over 1.6 billion individual records, the Identity Theft Research Center reports as of May 31.
Breaches like these often target sensitive records, seeking to match names with other sources of personally-identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, medical records, financial accounts or even website login information.
One of the other most effective methods scammers will employ is spear phishing or phishing attacks. These targeted attacks rely on social engineering — tricking someone at the other end of the computer or phone into giving up sensitive information by posing as a trusted figure or institutional authority.
Because of how simple and effective the method is, this will be one of the first things tried by scammers. According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, phishing is the leading cause of data breaches, accounting for 32% of data breaches. That number skyrockets even higher when spear fishing is paired with other related methods, such as using stolen credentials or other forms of social engineering.
Protecting Yourself From Identity Fraud
While modern life puts more at risk for identity theft and identity fraud than ever before, there are some concrete steps you can take to prevent becoming another victim. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends that you:
- Check your bank statements and credit card statements frequently
- Keep on top of bills and due dates so you notice if one goes missing
- Check your health insurance statements for claims discrepancies
- Check your credit ratings at least once a year; and
- Shred any sensitive or personally identifiable documents when throwing them away.
Report Identity Fraud
If you are the victim of identity fraud, the first thing you need to do is report it. IdentityTheft.gov is a great starting point for anybody that suspects they have been targeted by identity theft. If you would like to report an instance of identity theft, you can do so through the FTC Complaint Assistant. Other steps you should take include:
- Calling any businesses or organizations where you know fraudulent activity occurred
- Check your credit and immediately put a fraud alert on your credit reports; and
- File a report with your local police department
Contact The Experienced Consumer Fraud Attorneys
Regardless of how you fell victim to identity theft, working with a professional consumer fraud attorney is paramount to making a successful case. Our experienced attorneys can be a valuable asset in working with you to file a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection — the federal body responsible for stopping unfair and deceptive business practices. They can also help you understand your unique situation, help you understand your rights and help to make a case that will hold its own in a court of law.
Parnall & Adams Law is a trusted fraud law firm that provides representation to Albuquerque residents. Our expansive knowledge of the intricacies of consumer fraud protection and litigation guarantee that we will come prepared to help you in your fraud case, while saving you time and money by helping you understand your rights and next steps. Give Parnall & Adams a call at 505.886.4446 or request a consultation online.