I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about identity thieves themselves. This may not be as important as knowing the 8 types of identity theft, or how to protect yourself from identity theft, but for those who have been a victim having an idea who commits identity theft will generally give you an idea of the work ahead.
Identity thieves generally fall into three different categories. Each category has specific characteristics or signs, and you must guard against them differently. Since each category affects different types of victims, the number of victims a specific identity thief will harm varies.
Family and Friends
One type of identity thief is the personal identity thief. This is somebody who knows their victims personally. They are almost always trusted friends or even a family member. These identity thieves often commit medical identity theft, social security identity theft, financial identity theft criminal identity theft and utilities fraud. A personal identity thief can have dozens or even hundreds of victims.
A couple of years ago Detective Rose, a Financial Crimes Investigator in Lafayette, Indiana, told a story about a woman in a church choir who stole the identities of several church members, even the pastor’s wife who had recently passed, someone whom absolutely no one would have suspected. When she felt the heat getting too close, she completely disappeared. Rose said she resurfaced in Florida several months later, doing precisely the same thing.
When a personal identity thief gets going, it will spread quickly. People who know their identity thief will begin to connect the dots, usually law enforcement. Ideally, the identity thief is arrested and convicted, but some are clever, like Detective Rose’s church lady.
If a personal identity thief is a family member, the chances of them getting arrested are very low, because families don’t like to prosecute. This makes statistics inaccurate, since many are not even reported. Some cases are even understandable. Single parents often have poor finances because of a spiteful ex, so a struggling mother uses a child’s information to get the water turned on. It is not uncommon for a released convict to use the child’s identity to reestablish himself. This type of identity theft can go completely unnoticed, and there are more than a few cases where no damage is done.
If a friend or family member has stolen your identity you may see problems with turning on utilities or transferring them. You may notice your Social Security statement is wrong, or there may be errors in doctors’ files. And of course credit card bills, calls from bill collectors, or a summons to court are big signs of identity theft.
Children often learn they are a victim of identity theft when they apply for a driver’s license or learners permit, apply for their first loan, or try to get a job.
Statistics show that someone who commits identity theft will usually give a stolen identity to law enforcement if they are questioned or arrested. This is criminal identity theft. The innocent victim usually sees the inside of a jail cell, and spends a lot of money on legal help. If money is involved, some attorneys will bankrupt their client or have them plea to a lesser charge, which doesn’t really fix anything since it often happens again.
Protect Yourself from Personal Identity Theft
Personal identity thieves are very opportunistic. Think babysitters snooping through a desk drawer, or a maid rummaging in the basement. Beauticians, waiters and waitresses, your local gas station clerk, or anyone else you hand your credit card to are key people to watch as well.
Hide important documents, keep them in a personal safe, or better yet in a safe deposit box at the bank.
Protect social security numbers, even from family. Schools often ask for a child’s social security number, but they don’t need it. Your insurance company will probably need it, and the government will want it. Although neither of these institutions has a good reputation for protecting your information, there are usually laws involved that require you give this information away.
Be paranoid, the least a little. While dad is taking the babysitter home, mom might check to see if the desk has been rummaged after she looks in on the kids.
Check your own information if a friend tells you they were a victim of identity theft recently. (It gives you a good excuse, and you know you need to look anyway.)
Shred your personal information. Look for it on bills, bank statements, anything more than your name and address can be used by an identity thief.
Shredding this information before you throw it to the curb for the trash man may be the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from identity theft.