What is Identity Theft?

Identity Theft is the illegal use of someone else’s personal identifiable information (PII) with the intent to commit fraud or gain financial benefits in their name. If your identity or the identity of your child Identity as been stolen, identity thieves may open new credit accounts, file fake tax returns, buy or rent property, or take out loans that wreak havoc on your financial health and credit score.

What is PII?

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is any personal information about a person that is maintained by an agency. PII can include your name, place of birth, SSN, mother’s maiden name, biometric records, educational history, employment history, and more.

It’s important to understand that identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. What we call your identity is the total collection of your PII. This is the information thieves use when you experience a stolen identity. When they gain access to this information, they have the ability to, in essence, become you. If any of this information is stolen, we consider this a personal breach of your identity.

What could an identity thief do with your PII?

One of the first questions a victim of identity theft asks themselves is, “Why would someone want my identity?” For an identity thief, opening credit cards in your name, making fraudulent purchases, or using your personal information when being questioned by the police are just a part of a long list of what they are able to do with your stolen identity. They might:

  • Open new credit cards in your name

  • Make fraudulent purchases

  • Log in to personal accounts (email, social media, bank, etc…)

  • Open new phone and utility accounts in your name

  • Clone your ATM or debit card

  • Change your billing address

  • Obtain a new driver’s license or official ID

  • Use your identity when questioned by police

It’s important to understand that identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. Your identity is built on multiple layers that include more than just your social security number. What we call your identity is the total collection of your personally identifiable information (PII). When they gain access to this information, they have the ability to, in essence, become you. If any of this information is stolen, we consider this a personal breach of your identity.

How quickly does an identity thief start to use your personal information?

One study* by the FTC showed that criminals acted on stolen information within 9 minutes of getting the data. It is important to understand how identity theft can happen and act quickly when it does.

*FTC Study: How fast will identity thieves use stolen info? – May 2017

Is Your Personal Information Vulnerable to Identity Theft and Fraud?

What’s the one thing we ask when we see a magician make something disappear? How did they do that? When you are watching a performer, you’re left confused by the sleight of hand, but in the end, it is fun and entertaining. The fun stops when the magician is an identity thief and we notice things in our life are disappearing. It may seem like magic when someone else mysteriously accesses your personally identifiable information, but knowing how identity theft happens removes the magic and puts the control back in your hands. So, how do thieves steal an identity? Here are a few of the most common ways identity theft happens:

Dumpster Diving Identity Theft

Thieves rummage through trash looking for receipts, credit card bills, utility bills, medical insurance, bank statements, and other items with your personal information on them. When they find enough information, they have the basis for what they need to build a basic profile of the identity they want to steal. One easy step you can take today to protect yourself against a dumpster diving thief is to shred anything with your personal information on it using a cross-cut paper shredder.

Mail Theft

The mailbox is sometimes an easy target for a thief. Mail is dropped off, usually before anyone is at home, often leaving bills and documents with your personal information unsecure. Thieves use this as an opportunity to remove important documents to gain insight into your personal life and to gather sensitive information. At a minimum, we recommend using a locking mailbox if possible.

Email and Phone Scams

Have you ever received a call and been asked to verify your security information? It may sound something like, *Mrs. Smith, I have important information about your account, but before I can tell you I will need to verify your address and date of birth.” This is a technique used by thieves to gather the personal information they need to infiltrate your identity. Unfortunately, thieves using this technique have just enough information about you to make you feel secure and lead you to believe the information they have is truly valuable.

The best thing to do in this kind of situation is to ask what company the representative is calling from, hang up, and then call the number listed on your bill or the company website. A situation like this is never fun and leaves victims feeling vulnerable and taken advantage of.


This computer scheme is one of the most common types of identity theft. Phishing asks you to enter personal information like your credit card, account information, or social security number. They claim this information is to verify a purchase or to warn you about a security-related event.

Like pretexting, phishing convinces you to reveal personal information that allows a thief to steal from you. Virus and malware programs are great but are never foolproof. So, what do you do? If something like this were to happen, actively monitoring for changes and abuse is the best way to stay protected.

Wireless Hacking

As the Internet is becoming more accessible, thieves are becoming more resourceful. Hackers can connect to public or unsecure home WIFI networks to gain personal information. Once in, the perpetrators have access to install keyloggers that track websites you visit and passwords you enter. This includes banking institutions and social media. You can stay protected by ensuring your home network is protected and by never logging into accounts on an unsecure public WIFI network.

Shoulder Surfing

There is an opportunity for this type of theft anytime you enter your pin or account information at a public location. Without any technology involved, a thief invades your space and watches you enter your pin. This happens at ATM and payment machines and is a crime of opportunity. Always be aware of your surroundings and if someone is standing too close.

Credit Card Theft and Skimming

Credit and debit card fraud is awful. Too many of us have received a call from the bank informing us a purchase has been made that we were not aware of. We experience an immediate feeling of violation and are flooded with questions about how someone got our account information.

A popular method among thieves is to get your credit card info with a card skimmer. This type of theft occurs when a thief installs a device onto an ATM or credit card reader to read your credit card information. The device can read your card number and pin, allowing the thief to have full access to your account. Other ways thieves get your information include hacking, data breaches, and unsecure websites.

Whichever method the thief uses, once a criminal has your credit or debit card, they can use it within minutes to steal from you. If the incident isn’t flagged by the bank, you may not know what happened until the next time you see your statement.

Data Breach Threats

From banks to health care institutions, our information is being stored electronically. As our information is distributed and stored digitally, it becomes vulnerable to computer savvy thieves. Hackers have become proficient in hacking into some of the most secure institutions and gaining access to our personal information. Data breaches are becoming commonplace and the consumer has little power to prevent their information from being abused.

The more informed people like you are getting, the more creative thieves become. Understanding these common methods of identity theft and using identity theft protection helps protect yourself and your family. The best part is, you are not in this alone and you shouldn’t have to constantly worry. IdentityIQ is here to help!

Through our complete suite of identity protection products, IdentityIQ will give you the peace of mind knowing that someone is on guard when you need protection the most.

Using various monitoring products, we watch for everything from changes to your credit score to new users that are authorized on your accounts.

We actively monitor and protect your identity so you can focus on the things in life that matter most to you. We not only actively monitor for anything suspicious, but with IdentityIQ you will get the security of knowing that our experts are here to help when it matters most.

Learn More About Our Protection

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