How Does Identity Theft Happen?

How does identity theft happen?

Criminals can be creative and imaginative when it comes to forming a plan or a scheme.   Let’s discuss a variety of methods that can be used to steal our identity.  Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list, as criminals continue to come up with new strategies to wreak havoc on our lives.

Data Breaches

These can happen simply by someone hacking into a company’s computer system where your information is stored.  Have you ever received a notification in the mail from a company, doctor’s office, or health insurance company stating they had a data breach and that your personal information may have been compromised?  That is a data breach.  When this happens, it is not uncommon for the company to offer to pay for a credit monitoring service for you.  They do this to help ensure the data breach does not contribute to criminals gaining access to personal information to misuse that information.


Thieves use devices called skimmers that may be attached or hooked up to an ATM or point of sale systems and other card reader devices to capture your bank information or credit card number.

Physical Theft  

Some less sophisticated criminals resort to the old fashion theft option of stealing someone’s purse or wallet.


If you must email a document that contains your personal identifiers, secure the email before sending it.  Put a password on the document so that if a hacker gains access to the email, they won’t get access to the document with your data.  Of course, do not put the password in the same email that you are using to send the attachment that contains your data. If possible, call the person who will be the recipient of the email and tell them the password so they can open it when they receive the email.

Email Phishing

Be very careful of this type of attempt.  Criminals can be clever in disguising a particular email to look like an official email from your bank, PayPal, Apple, or other types of companies with your personal information.  In the email, you will be asked to click on a link to update your information.  Thieves obtain your passwords as well as your data to commit cyber-crimes.

Stealing Your Mail  

It is highly recommended that you shred any mail items that contain your personal information, name, address, and especially anything with an account number on it.  Don’t just toss those pre-approved credit applications in the trash.  Thieves will go through peoples’ trash to gather the information needed to commit identity theft or fraud.

Unsecured WiFi  

Be very cautious when using public WiFi.  If the WiFi is not secured, then hackers can access data on your phone and your computer or tablet.

Mobile Devices

Stealing your cell phone or tablet to gain access to passwords and apps you may have your data saved in is another way to access your personal data.  Be careful.  Ensure you have some form of security on your phone, whether it be a passcode, touch ID, or retina display.

Avoid Becoming a Victim

It may seem quite daunting with all ways our identity could be stolen or compromised.  Have no fear; there are many things you can do to protect yourself.  Even better news, most of the measures you can take are free.


Keep your document safe and secure.


As mentioned previously, make sure and shred your mail and any documents that contain any of your personal identifiers.

Monitor and review your credit card and banking statements ­

Review your accounts every month.  You watch to make sure there are no charges on your credit card that you did not make.  Investigate small charges, because it is not uncommon for criminals to charge $1.00 to see if it does not get noticed or blocked.  If you don’t address the small fraudulent charge, then they will charge a bigger item. Review your bank statements for the same type of illegal activity.

Protect your Social Security Number

Don’t keep your social security card in your wallet.  If possible, keep your birth certificate and other types of essential documents in a safe. You should also create an account with the social security office to monitor your earnings and review your work history to help monitor and ensure no one else uses your social security number to work.

Thieves may also use your social security number to file a fake tax return to get your refund.

Password protection  

Keep your passwords safe and secure.  Do not use the same password for everything.  Avoid using any part of your name, date of birth, or social security number as part of your password.  Also, avoid using family members and pet names if you must write down your passwords to remember them.  Store them in a secure place.  Keeping your passwords in your desk is not a safe place.  Lastly, remember to change your password at least every couple of months.

If you struggle to come up with a strong, unique password, there are password generators that can assist you with that.

Protect your computers, phones, and tablets by creating a passcode, touch ID, or retina display to access your phone or tablet.

Online precautions

Use common sense.  Do not click or download items from unfamiliar senders as this can give them access to your device.  As mentioned earlier, be careful with the emails asking for you to update your information by clicking on a link within the email.  These are referred to as phishing scams.  These emails can be tough to spot as the criminals are very creative in making the email look like it is coming from a particular vendor.  Your banking and credit card institutions will never ask you to update your account information through email.  When in doubt, don’t click but call the company directly.

Avoid using public WiFi whenever you are accessing or sending sensitive personal information.

ATM and Point of Sale Systems

When using any of these types of devices, always cover your hand as you enter your PIN.  Remember to check to make sure there is no skimming device applied to the top of the keypad.  Give the keypad a little shake to make sure it does not move before putting in your card.  When you buy gas, make sure the “seal” tape that is usually located on the sides of the card device is secure and not broken.   You can also choose to go inside and pay for your gas.

Review your credit report

We recommend you review your credit report at least annually, and you can do that for free once a year at

Items to check on your credit report are:

Check for any discrepancies.  Make sure the creditors listed are ones that belong to you.   If you see an account on your credit report that you did not open, you want to address that immediately.

Review for correct reporting, meaning make sure your creditors are reporting correctly.  For example, if you see a creditor reporting a late payment, but you know you were never late, this would be an item to discuss with your credit and request a correction.  You want to get this incorrect reporting fixed because late payments will lower your credit score.


Credit Freeze

You can freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus, and this will not allow anyone, including yourself, to open new credit.  For you to be able to open a new account, you must unfreeze your accounts.  You MUST contact each bureau online to freeze your accounts. You can freeze and unfreeze your account as many times as you’d like.


A credit freeze can also be a little added protection for you to avoid impulse buying because you can’t apply for credit on a whim.  You must contact the credit bureau to unfreeze your credit.


This method is one of the easiest ways to ensure no one opens up credit in your name.  The best thing; is that there is no cost associated with this wonderful protection.


Equifax Alerts
Equifax Consumer
Fraud Division
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30374


Experian Fraud Center
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013


TransUnion Fraud Alert
TransUnion Fraud Victim
Assistance Department
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016



Credit Monitoring Services

If you feel you want an added layer of protection, there are many credit monitoring services.   This type of protection usually comes with a monthly servicing fee.  Check with your banking institution; sometimes, the service may be discounting through your bank. These services will monitor your credit report for fraudulent activity and send you alerts if an incident occurs.