Protecting Your Identity While You Shop

Identity theft is a serious crime that can have long-term negative consequences for its victims. It can result in damage to a person's credit that leads to an inability to rent an apartment, secure a loan, or get a job. ID theft can also leave a person with medical bills for care that they never received. Identity thieves can also commit serious crimes under other people's names, putting their victims in trouble with the law. Even children can become victims of identity theft. In some cases, the criminals in question may even be a child's parent or family member who uses their identity fraudulently. Identity thieves have a large arsenal of tactics that they use to steal people's identities. These include (but are not limited to) phony coupon scams, looking over people's shoulders to steal information as they type, pilfering personal information from papers in a Dumpster, or tricking people into giving personal information to scammers over the phone, on a website, or by email. According to the credit reporting agency TransUnion and the IRS, 2.7 million people were struck by identity theft in 2014.

Consumers can take a variety of steps to protect themselves from this type of crime, including shredding papers that contain personal information, using strong passwords to protect their financial and government website accounts, and removing mail from mailboxes as soon as possible. People should also check their credit reports regularly and watch for strange or new financial accounts that they never opened, scan their bank accounts to check for unfamiliar purchases, and look out for any unexpected change of address notices. These are warning signs of identity theft and should be responded to immediately. Those who suspect or discover that they are a victim of identity theft should file a report with law enforcement, place short- and long-term fraud alerts on their credit report, take steps to dispute inaccurate credit report information, and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.

What Is Identity Theft?

  • What Are Identity Theft and Identity Fraud? The United States Department of Justice explains the nature of identity-related crimes on their criminal justice education website. The page also covers what victims can do to protect themselves from further damage and what law enforcement is doing to fight this crime.
  • What Is Identity Theft? (PDF): Learn about identity theft in a two-page document at the Boston University website. It also talks about detecting the warning signs, defending against theft, and what to do if one is a victim.
  • A Serious Crime: Identity Theft: Readers interested in finding out about identity theft can find useful information from TransUnion. They talk about statistics, data breaches, and how people can reduce the odds of becoming victims.
  • Scams and Frauds: Identity Theft: Visit the USA.gov website to learn about the crime known as identity theft. This page discusses the data breach at Equifax, various forms of identity theft, prevention strategies, and how to report it.
  • The Definition of Identity Theft (PDF): Lakeland College provides readers with a document about what constitutes identity theft. They also explain various forms of identity theft, how criminals carry it out, the consequences of being a victim, and how to respond to an incident.
  • What We Investigate: Identity Theft: Identity theft is a powerful tool for criminals who seek anonymity. The FBI explains the nature of this crime and how they are taking action to fight it.
  • Public Safety: Identity Theft: Find out about the nature of identity theft on the state of Massachusetts website. It includes information concerning the significance of this crime, methods, prevention techniques, and more.
  • Identity Theft: What it Means to You: Key Bank explains the nature of identity theft on the security section of their website. They also discuss measures to protect oneself from identity theft and how to react if one is a victim.

Common Identity Theft Examples

  • The Many Types of Identity Theft: There is more than one kind of identity theft. This article by The Balance lists some examples and explains the nature of these crimes.
  • Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft: A news article by the Internal Revenue Service explains the nature of identity theft to interested readers. It explains warning signs for detecting identity theft, prevention strategies, and what steps victims can take.
  • Metropolitan Police Department: Examples of Identity Theft: The District of Columbia government website provides a list of ways in which criminals carry out identity theft. They include stolen checks, misuse of victims' Social Security numbers, passport fraud, and more.
  • Most Common Schemes: This page by the Center for Identity Management and Information Protection talks about different examples of identity theft-related crimes. Dumpster diving, theft of one's mail, social engineering, credit and debit card theft, and scams are some of the examples that they bring up.
  • Child Identity Theft: Children can be victims of identity theft as well as adults. The University of Miami Health System explains how this happens, how to detect it, and what can be done to reduce the risk of it happening.
  • Medical Identity Theft: What You Need to Know: Medical identity theft is a growing crime that affected nearly 2 million people in 2013. This article by the University of Texas explains what medical identity theft is and how a person can reduce their risk of becoming a victim.
  • Online Fraud: Identity thieves use social engineering tactics to steal personal information for the purpose of tax fraud. The University of Delaware issued a bulletin in 2016 to students warning them to take precautions to avoid falling prey to this crime.
  • Types of Fraud: The University of California at Berkeley explains a number of different ways that criminals commit identity theft on this page. They include credit card theft, utility fraud, financial identity theft, and identity theft involving government documents.

What to Do if You Are a Victim

  • Mitigate, Recognize, and React to Identity Theft (PDF): People's United Bank provides readers with a document about how to deal with identity theft. This includes what to do if one is a victim as well as how to reduce the risk of identity theft and how to catch the warning signs.
  • Know Your Rights: Despite one's best efforts at preventing the crime, identity theft can still happen. The Federal Trade Commission offers advice on what victims can do to undo the damage done when someone steals their identity.
  • An Identity Theft Victim's Story: Identity theft struck a victim every two minutes in 2013, according to statistics. Forbes talks about the statistical facts involving this crime and one victim's story, then relates how people can take steps to reduce the odds of it happening to them.
  • ID Theft Victims: It is possible for victims of identity theft to restore their good name. This page by the North Carolina attorney general's office explains how to recover from identity theft.
  • Victim Assistance: Victims of identity theft can find useful advice on what to do by visiting the Identity Theft Resource Center. It covers topics such as identity theft with regard to financial accounts, taxes and government services, medical fraud, and more.
  • Guide for Victims of Identity Theft: The Iowa attorney general's office provides step-by-step advice on this page for people who have been hit with identity theft. They also have information about how to get help from credit reporting agencies and other resources.
  • Identity Theft First Aid: Visitors to the state of California's website can find valuable advice on what to do in various identity theft scenarios. These include a stolen wallet, debt collection calls on unknown debts, strange charges on financial statements, and data breach notices.
  • Basic Steps to Take if You Are a Victim of Identity Theft: People who have been hit with identity theft can get helpful information from the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs website on how to respond.

Identity Theft Prevention

  • How Can I Avoid Identity Theft Online?: Indiana University offers a list of useful tips on how to manage one's online presence while reducing their risk of becoming a victim of identity theft. These include only submitting personal information on a secure website, not posting pictures of oneself online, keeping firewall and anti-virus software up to date, and more.
  • Feature: How to Avoid Identity Theft: Learn about how to avoid identity theft by reading this article on the Michigan University website. It also includes steps on what to do if one is a victim.
  • How to Prevent Identity Theft: Visit the Utah State University Extension website for valuable information about what to do to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
  • Best Practices To Avoid Identity Theft: There are a variety of steps that people can take to prevent identity theft from striking. Boise State University provides a long list of examples, as well as what to do and who to contact in the event that one's personal information is stolen.
  • Why Should You Take Actions To Prevent Identity Theft?: The University of California at Santa Cruz offers readers advice on how to protect themselves from identity-related crimes. There is also information here on how to report identity theft and links to related resources.
  • Avoiding Identity Theft: Consumer.gov gives readers tips on how to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft on their website. They also include information about what identity theft is and why it is a major problem for victims.