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Identity Theft Methods You May Not Have Considered


Identity theft is often thought of as an electronic crime. In truth, however, it’s your every day habits that could lead to identity theft. Little things that you don’t think about it can create the opportunities that an identity thief needs to grab enough information to damage your credit, or worse, your whole life. Here’s a quick list of four common ways that identity thieves gain access to your personal information and steal your identity.

1. Wayward Receipts

Close-up of grocery receipt
Adam Gault/OJO Images/Getty Images

Before 2006, merchants printed credit card numbers on receipts. Today, that practice that is supposed to be illegal, but there are times when it still happens. Especially if the merchant you’re shopping with uses one of the old carbon credit card machines to make a copy of your credit card. Even new cash registers print the last four digits of the card number and an expiration date on the receipt. This information can be gold to identity thieves.

Keep track of your receipts until you can shred them. Don’t leave them in the bag with your purchases. And don’t throw them away in public trash receptacles or even in your own trash. Treat your receipts just as you would any other personal information and shred them using a cross-cut shredder.

2. ATM Lurkers

Thief looking over woman's shoulder at ATM
Image Source/Getty Images

Cash can’t be duplicated, so it must be safer to shop with cash than with a check or credit card, right? Well, that depends. Cash can be safer, but only if you’re safe in getting and managing it.

Have you ever stopped by the ATM machine just to have someone standing a little closer than you’re comfortable with? Be careful of those people. In this day and age of camera and video-enabled cell phones, that ATM lurker could be recording your ATM pin number. Then it’s just a matter of grabbing your card and they have access to your bank account and everything that’s in it.

Whenever possible use a drive up ATM machine. And if you must use an ATM machine where people can stand behind you, try to block others’ view with your body.

3. Secure Your Domain

Your personal space—your home and your car—feel safe to you. This is where you spend the most time, and it’s where you keep everything that matters most in your world. It’s that feeling of comfort that puts you most at risk for identity theft in your own home. If someone took all of the information that you have laying around your home, how much could they gain?

Be aware of the risks that you take with your personal information in your own home. Mail stacked on a desk, personal files in closets, and purses sitting out in the open are vulnerable to opportunistic criminals. Keep your personal information and mail locked away in a fire-proof safe, and put your purse or wallet away in a place that can’t be seen.

4. Credit Card Follies

Most people rely on their credit and debit cards to make everyday purchases at stores and restaurants. Unfortunately, it’s very easy for someone to steal your credit card information.

A common scheme used to steal credit card numbers is called skimming. You give your credit to a server or cashier to pay for something, and they either swipe it twice—once for authorization and once to collect the information encoded on the card.

The best way to protect yourself from skimming is to use a disposable credit card that you load with a preset spending amount. They’re good until that money is gone, and then they’re useless. This stops criminals from gaining access to your credit or banking accounts and helps prevent identity theft.

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