The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fielded nearly 1.4 million complaints about identity theft in 2020, more than double the 2019 total. And it comes in many forms: Credit-reporting agency Experian lists 16 distinct types. (Some, such as tax ID theft and Social Security number scams, are discussed in greater detail elsewhere in the Fraud Resource Center.) Identity thieves swarm the internet and often target older Americans, who tend to be slow to adopt new fraud-prevention technologies and are loath to change their online habits even when they've experienced fraud, according to an October 2020 study produced by digital finance consulting firm Javelin Strategy and Research and sponsored by AARP.
Identity thieves have a range of tactics to get what they need, from old school (stealing your mail) to high tech (massive hacks of banks, retail chains and other companies that stockpile consumer data). Often they claim to represent government agencies, requesting personal or financial information on the pretext of helping you collect benefits or navigate bureaucracy. This tactic increased an astounding 2,900 percent in 2020, according to the FTC data, as scammers exploited the federal distribution of trillions of dollars in COVID-19 relief.
Scammers might also pretend to be from utilities, banks or big tech firms to get their hands on identifying information, or send phishing emails with links that infect your device with data-harvesting malware.
Once they have your private data, fraudsters may use it to open new credit accounts and make big-ticket purchases you might not discover until the bills come due. They might get medical treatment, file tax returns or take out loans in your name. The costs are counted not just in money but in time spent chasing down phony accounts, repairing damaged credit and re-establishing your identity with government and financial institutions.
As many ways as there are for fraudsters to poach your identity, there are also many simple steps you can take to help keep them at bay.
Follow this link to learn more about the warning signs as well as do's and don'ts when it comes to protecting your personal information.
Source: What Is Identity Theft and How to Report It (aarp.org)
More Resources: If your identity has been stolen or misused, report it to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov or by calling 877-438-4338.
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