How Does Identity Theft Happen?

In today’s technologically advanced society, identity theft is easier to commit than you might think. The Internet and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), now widely used for a variety of financial transactions, sc as shopping online and making cash withdrawals, are often cited as two contributing factors to what many perceive to be an identity theft epidemic.

If you become a victim it can be financially, as well as emotionally, devastating. With your personal information, a criminal might be able to simply open a credit card account and make fraudulent charges, or in more extreme cases, he or she may even assume your identity, open bank accounts an commit more serious crimes – all under your name. If you worry about your personal information getting into the wrong hands, familiarize yourself with the following ways a criminal might obtain information, such as your Social Security number, to attack your records:

“Shoulder Surfing” – Shoulder surfing occurs when someone lurks near you while you give personal information to another person, or enter it into a machine. Usually, the perpetrator peers over your shoulder and procures your information while you continue with your transaction. For example, if you are in a public place, on a cellular phone, making hotel reservations, an eavesdropper might be able to remember, or write down, your name and credit card information. That information can then be used to make fraudulent purchases. Or if you make a store purchase with a credit card and drop, or lose, your receipt, someone – even the store employee – may take the receipt, with your information and commit fraud. Shoulder surfing can also be a hazard at ATMs. If someone inconspicuously standing in line manages to get your personal identification number (PIN), it may help him or her gain access to your bank account.

Pickpocketing and Lost Wallets – Years ago if you lost a wallet, or were pick-pocketed, you probably only worried about the cash that was inside. However, nowadays being pick-pocketed, or losing a wallet, can mean facing thousands of dollars in fraudulent purchases with credit cards.

“Dumpster Diving” – Dumpster diving is as obvious as it sounds. If you dispose of trash containing personal information, such as credit card offers in a dumpster, others may have access to it. Identity theft perpetrators might “dive in” and easily find the information they need to wreak financial havoc under your name.

Intercepting Mail – Identity thieves watch mailboxes every day, waiting for the next credit card pre-approval letter to arrive, and then call the credit card company posing as “that person” in order to open an account. While you cannot stop all solicitations, you can choose to “opt out” of receiving some of these letters. Calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT can help you limit the amount of unsolicited mail and number of calls you receive.

The Internet – Many Americans rely on the Internet to help them handle their personal finances. While it can be a useful tool for banking or paying bills online, the Internet can also be a haven for prospective identity thieves. Entering your personal information into an unsecured website may allow an experienced hacker to obtain that information and use it at your expense.

-Robert Catalano