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How Does Identity Theft Happen?

Who Is at Risk of Identity Theft?

Identity theft can happen when your social security number, name and birthdate, and bank or credit card information is obtained.  There are certain age groups that can be more at risk than others.  The Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019 published by the Federal Trade Commission January 2020 is a wealth of statistical information.

Methods to Steal Identities

Criminals can be creative and imaginative when it comes to forming a plan or a scheme. Let’s explore 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 cybercrimes.

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.