What You Need to Know to Avoid Identity Theft

What You Need to Know to Avoid Identity Theft
What You Need to Know
to Avoid Identity Theft
Table of Contents
What is Identity Theft?
Important Identity Theft Facts
Types of Identity Theft
Financial Identity Theft Criminal/Impersonation Identity Theft Medical Identity Theft Child Identity Theft 7
How Thieves Steal Your Identity
Online Offline Other Methods 12
How Identity Theft Affects You
How You Can Protect Yourself
General Tips Online Offline 20
What to Do if You Become a Victim
Resources: Additional Information
About McAfee 26
When you think of theft, you usually think of someone stealing
your possessions. To avoid theft, you may have taken the trouble
to install an alarm system in your home or lock up your valuables
in a safe or a safety deposit box at the bank. But nowadays,
possessions aren’t the only things you need to protect. Modern
thieves have gone high-tech—they can take your money, use
your credit, and ruin your reputation by stealing your identity.
Identity theft can happen to anyone because all of our personal
information is scattered in so many places—from online shopping
websites and corporate databases to wallets and scraps of paper.
In this guide, you will learn more about how identity theft occurs
and the measures you can take to protect yourself.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft, or identity fraud, occurs when
someone steals information that defines your
personal identity—such as your name, Social
Security number, bank account numbers, and credit
card numbers—to reap the benefits of posing as
you. These benefits can be financial, such as access
to your accounts and credit cards, or they can be
reputational in that thieves can use your identity
to get a job or commit a crime.
Using your personal details, a thief can open a credit card account and run up
charges, create counterfeit checks using your account number, or even obtain
an official government document, such as a driver’s license, in your name.
When this happens, you not only lose money, you also face losing the ability to take
out a loan, receive medical benefits, or get a job due to bad credit and a damaged
reputation. In severe cases, you could even get thrown in jail for mistaken identity.
Most often, it takes a long time for victims to realize that their identities have been
stolen, and by the time they become aware of the fraud the thief is long gone. This
explains why it’s so easy for thieves to commit identity theft and why it’s so hard for
law enforcement to catch them.
Even High-Profile People Aren’t Immune
Anna Bernanke, the wife of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, had her purse stolen
at a Starbucks. In her wallet was her driver’s license, four credit cards, the checkbook to a
joint account, and her Social Security card. This gave the thieves the perfect combination
of Mrs. Bernanke’s Social Security number, date of birth (from her driver’s license), home
address and home phone number (from her checks). The thieves eventually made off
with $9,000 from the joint account. This just goes to show that you should not carry
all of your personal identification with you. Always leave your Social Security card at home
in a safe place.2
Every three seconds, an identity
is stolen.1
Identity Theft Protection site, http://identityprotectiononline.com/2009/07/10/identity-theft-statistics/
Important Identity Theft Facts
Javelin’s Identity Fraud Report for 2010 found that 11.1 million adults in the
U.S. were victims of identity fraud, a 12% increase from 2008 and 37% increase
since 2007 3
Americans incurred $54 billion in loss from identity theft in 2008 4
The average fraud amount per victim was close to $5,000 5
Victims who found out about their identity theft more than six months after
it happened incurred costs 4x higher than the average 6
From 2005 to 2009, there have been more than 500 million consumers
whose personal and financial data had been exposed as a result of corporate
data breaches—events the victim cannot control despite taking personal
safety measures 7
Victims spend an average of 58 hours repairing the damage done to existing
accounts and an average of 165 hours repairing damage done by the creation
of new, fraudulent accounts 8
43% of identity theft occurs from a stolen wallet, checkbook, credit card, billing
statement, or other physical document 9
Javelin Research & Strategy. 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report
Identity Theft Research Center. Identity Theft: The Aftermath 2008
Identity Theft Research Center. Identity Theft: The Aftermath 2008
Types of Identity Theft
When most people think of identity theft they
think of stolen credit cards or banking information,
but there are actually various kinds of identity theft
that can affect other important areas of your life,
such as your healthcare, your reputation, and your
child’s credit record.
Let’s take a look at the different kinds of identity
theft so you can gain a better understanding of what
you need to do to protect you and your family.
Financial Identity Theft
Financial identity theft involves using stolen personal information to get access
to your money or credit. This is the most common type of identity theft because
it is lucrative and often hard to trace. Problems resulting from financial identity
theft include:
Unauthorized credit card charges—Thieves who steal your credit card
or misdirect billing statements to get ahold of your information can essentially
take over your credit card account to make fraudulent charges. Criminals can
also gain access to your account by intercepting new credit cards sent through
the mail or by applying for a new card with your personal information. When the
thief fails to pay the charges they run up on your card, this can affect your credit,
especially if it takes a while to figure out that your information has been stolen.
Loss of Social Security benefits—If a thief steals your Social Security
number, they could start receiving your benefits. They could also steal Social
Security checks directly from your mailbox. In more extreme cases, the thief
can even obtain work under your name and Social Security number, leaving you
to pay the income taxes on their earnings.
Bad credit—If a thief uses your personal information to obtain loans, goods,
and services and doesn’t pay the bills, this can damage your credit.
Criminal/Impersonation Identity Theft
Criminal identity theft, or criminal impersonation, is when a thief takes over
your identity and assumes it as their own. The thief could give your driver’s
license, date of birth, or Social Security number to law enforcement officers
during an investigation or upon arrest. Alternatively, the imposter could present
a counterfeit license containing your data.
Dangers of criminal identity theft include:
Criminal records—If an identity thief commits a crime and presents himself
to authorities using your name, you could wind up with a criminal record
or warrants for your arrest. The victim could even end up spending time in jail.
Traffic violations or warrants in your name—If a thief steals your driver’s
license and commits traffic violations, they could present your identification to law
enforcement officials. When they fail to pay the tickets or go to traffic court,
you could be left with hefty fees and even warrants for your arrest.
A Decade of Trouble
Back in 1998, Daryl A. Landry of Barrington, New Hampshire went to the Department
of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to renew his driver’s license and was told that there was a warrant
out for his arrest for assaulting a state trooper. As it turns out, Darryl M. Landry of Watertown,
Massachusetts—a registered sex offender—had stolen Daryl A. Landry’s identity several years
ago and was giving out his personal information whenever Darryl M. Landry got in trouble.
Although Daryl A. Landry described the situation to law enforcement officials, he continued
to receive warrants for his arrest and threatening phone calls from parents, claiming that he
abducted their children. Finally, after nearly a decade of fighting warrants, Daryl A. Landry
cleared his name when Darryl M. Landry was arrested in March of 2007 and charged with
identity fraud.10
Medical Identity Theft
Medical identity theft occurs when someone steals your medical insurance
information to receive benefits such as treatments and/or prescriptions in your
name. This is one of the fastest growing forms of identity theft because the
benefits could potentially add up to hundreds and thousands of dollars worth
of medical claims and could dramatically improve the thief’s well-being. Believe it
or not, the street value of stolen medical identities ($50 to $60) is much higher
than the street value for Social Security numbers ($1).11
Unfortunately, medical identity theft can also be much more difficult to sort out,
at least in the United States. Since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability
Act (HIPAA) protects patient medical records, if someone else’s medical records are
mixed with yours, you will be prevented from accessing your records. Thus, you may
face a long and painful process to remedy the situation.
The dangers of medical identity theft include:
Being denied health coverage—If someone else is receiving your healthcare
benefits, you could be denied coverage or lose your current coverage due to
false information placed in your medical records.
The wrong treatment—If your medical identity is stolen, your doctor could
be presented with the wrong medical history, such as a different blood type or
list of allergies which can lead to damaging or even deadly treatments.
Cancer Patient Steals Identity for Treatment
Last year, three hospitals in Illinois discovered that they had given $530,000 worth of medical
care to an illegal immigrant who stole another woman’s identity to receive cancer treatments.
Marianna de la Torre crossed the border into the United States from Mexico in 2006 in the
trunk of a car. In 2007, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and gave hospital workers
an alias, fearing they wouldn’t treat her otherwise. At some point, she stole the name and
Social Security number of a woman named Gloria, who was in prison for robbery. The Illinois
hospitals gave her intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as two surgeries,
believing she was Gloria.12
Child Identity Theft
There is a growing trend among identity thieves to steal the identities of children,
even infants, since a child’s records represent a clean slate for the criminal and
it usually takes years before the theft is discovered. A child’s stolen Social Security
number could be used to obtain a driver’s license or open credit accounts. Often, the
first time victims discover that their identity was stolen is when they engage in their
first financial transaction and try to establish credit by, for example, purchasing a
cell phone or buying a car.
The dangers of child identity theft include:
Damaged credit—If many years pass before the victim realizes that their identity
has been stolen, a long history of poor credit that is difficult to unravel may be
the result.
Income tax liability—If the thief has been working using a child’s stolen
Social Security number, the child could be held liable for income taxes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
predicts that 5% of all identity theft
cases target children. The Identity Theft
Resource Center reports that more
than half (54%) of these crimes were
committed against children
under six years old.13
Boy Owes Hundreds of Dollars in Income Taxes
Joshua Sude was in the tenth grade when he received a letter from the Internal Revenue
Service (IRS) claiming that he owed hundreds of dollars in income taxes. As it turns out,
his Social Security number was used to obtain four different jobs in three cities under two
different names. Joshua’s mother finally contacted the IRS to determine how it was possible
for a 12-year-old boy to be working at a fish company and two fast food restaurant chains.
It took her a while to clear up the matter—because there were many people in line in
front of her with similar identity theft issues.14
Federal Trade Commission, About Identity Theft microsite
Los Angeles Daily News, June 2006
How Thieves Steal
Your Identity
One out of four Americans is expected to become
a victim of identity theft.15 With that in mind, it’s
worth knowing how thieves can steal your identity.
Unfortunately, they have numerous tricks up their
sleeves—from old-fashioned methods such as
stealing your wallet and raiding your mailbox,
to high-tech methods such as data breaches and
email scams.
Let’s review some of the most common ways crooks
can steal your sensitive information so that you can
take preventative measures.
Identity Theft Protection site, http://identityprotectiononline.com/2009/07/10/
Phishing—Phishing scams are spam emails sent by cybercriminals that pretend
to be from a legitimate person or organization with the intent of tricking you
into revealing personal information. For instance, a cybercriminal may send
an email that looks like it originates from your bank asking you to “confirm”
account information by clicking on a link that takes you to a fake website and
asks you to type in your bank account user name and password. Phishing is one
of the most common types of cybercrime, and thieves are constantly updating
and changing their scams in hopes of fooling you.
Pharming—In a pharming attempt, a hacker installs malicious code on your
personal computer to direct you to fake websites without your knowledge.
You could be directed to a fraudulent shopping site where you might enter your
payment information without knowing that the site is not legitimate.
Spim—Spim is spam sent via instant messaging (IM). The IMs could include
spyware, keyloggers, viruses, and links to phishing sites.
Spyware—This is software that a hacker surreptitiously installs on your computer
to collect personal information. It can also be used to direct you to fake websites,
change your settings, or take control of your computer in other ways.
Keyloggers—A keylogger is a form of spyware that records keystrokes as you
type. The information you type is then saved to a file that the hacker can access.
If you are surfing the web and visiting banking and e-commerce sites, a keylogger
can potentially record your account and password information, which the hacker
could then use to get access to your credit card or banking accounts and even
steal your identity.
Trojan horse—A Trojan horse is a malicious program that appears to be harmless.
If you unwittingly download a Trojan horse from the web, it could allow the hacker
remote access to your machine from anywhere in the world, which gives them the
ability to access files on your computer and even watch your screen activity.
Social networking sites—With so much popularity surrounding social networking
sites, it’s sometimes easy to forget that people outside your circle of friends can
often access the information you post about yourself. By providing details such
as your name, date of birth, contact details, and employer, thieves can start to
piece together the information they need to steal your identity.
Wardriving—Thieves also try to steal your personal information using a
technique called wardriving, where they drive around looking for unsecured wireless
connections (networks). If your home wireless connection is not secured, hackers
can access data on all the computers you have connected to your wireless router,
as well as see information you type into your banking and credit card sites.
Federal Trade Commission, About Identity Theft microsite
Theft of personal identifiable
information from Internet scams
is at an all time high.16
In 42% of identity theft cases, victims
reported that the imposter was a friend,
family member, ex-spouse/partner, or
someone in close contact with them
such as a coworker.17
Mailbox raiding—Thieves look for mailboxes with their flags up (usually in
rural or suburban areas), indicating that there is mail to be sent. They are on the
lookout for credit card, bank, and other financial statements which usually include
account numbers. They also look for pre-approved credit card applications so
they can open a new account in your name without your knowledge.
Dumpster diving—In urban areas, crooks turn to a similar method: they
dig through your trash looking for financial documents and papers that include
sensitive information. Thieves can use the booty they find through mailbox raiding
or dumpster diving to change your address and divert your billing statements in
an effort to conceal the fact that your identity has been stolen.
Stealing wallets/checkbooks—Wallet and checkbook theft may be the
oldest trick in the book, but that’s because it works. Many individuals carry around
not only their driver’s license, but also their Social Security card, credit cards, and
automated teller machine (ATM) cards, giving thieves all the information they need
to impersonate their victims.
Stealing information from homes—We tend to leave our bills and sensitive
documents lying around the house and forget that family, visitors, at-home
employees, and contractors can then easily access this information.
Address fraud—A criminal can also easily change your address and redirect
your mail to a different address so they can steal your confidential information
or take over your banking or credit card accounts.
Shoulder surfing—A criminal can get access to your pin number or password
by simply watching over your shoulder as you are using an ATM or typing on
your computer. Or they could be listening as you provide your credit card number
or identification information over the phone to a legitimate vendor. Either way,
they now have your data in hand and can commit serious crimes.
Federal Trade Commission, About Identity Theft microsite
Other Methods
Vishing/smishing—Vishing and smishing are the same as phishing,
except that vishing is done by telephone, and smishing is done by text message,
although both often include an email component.
In a vishing attempt, a scammer may call you pretending to be from your bank
to inform you that they have noticed some suspicious activity on your account.
They would then ask you to “verify” account details over the phone.
In a smishing attempt, a scammer may send a link to a malicious website or a
phone number that has an automated voice response system (a type of vishing)
that asks for your personal information.
Skimming—When you insert your ATM card into a compromised machine
or run your credit card through a phony card reader, you could become a victim
of skimming. Skimming is where a hacker illegally obtains information from the
magnetic strip on the back of your credit or ATM card. This information can then
be used to access your accounts or produce a fake credit card with your name
and details on it.
Corporate data breaches—Corporations of all sizes, whether they are
healthcare providers, insurance companies, or online businesses, store a large
amount of sensitive customer information. If this information is hacked or
leaked, your personal and financial details may be exposed.
ATM skimming costs consumers
and companies more than $8.5 billion
a year.18
How Identity Theft
Affects You
Unlike the theft of a watch or stereo, identity
theft can result in serious consequences that take
both time and money to resolve, not to mention
the emotional distress you may feel. Here are ways
in which identity theft can affect your life and
your future.
Financial Loss
Of course, the most obvious loss is financial. If the thief has access to your
checking, savings, or investment accounts, they can steal funds from your account.
Damaged Credit
Because identity thieves open fake accounts at billing addresses that are different
from yours, it’s easy for them to run up charges without your knowledge. If these
charges go unpaid, the delinquent accounts can show up on your credit report.
You may not even realize that your credit has been damaged until you try to take
out a car loan or mortgage and are denied credit.
Credit damage is particularly dangerous when it happens to children with stolen
identities because it could be years before they attempt their first financial transaction
and realize that their credit has been ruined.
Loss of Benefits
Identity thieves are often interested in other information beyond bank account
numbers, such as your Social Security number and medical policy information. Once
they get ahold of these details, they can potentially obtain a Social Security card
in your name, receive benefits, and even land a job impersonating you. They could
also use your medical information to get treatment using your medical insurance
coverage. If they exceed your allotted annual benefits, you could potentially be
denied medical coverage when you need it. And most dangerous of all, if the thief’s
medical history is confused with yours, your own medical care could be jeopardized.
Criminal Record
It may seem farfetched, but if a thief steals your identity and uses it to commit a
crime, you could get a criminal record. A crook could obtain an identification card
with your information and when that crook is arrested for a crime, the charges
go on your record. And if the crook skips bail or doesn’t appear before court, it’s
no loss to him because the authorities have a warrant out for you. The worse part
is that you may not even know that you have a criminal record until you are pulled
over for a traffic violation and arrested or when you apply for a job and are turned
down after a background check.
The Cost to Repair the Damage
Because it often takes a long time to realize that you’ve become a victim of
identity theft, the damage can mount. Before you know it, you might be facing
multiple fraudulent charges, damage to your credit report, and other issues that
take considerable work and expense to repair. You can end up spending hours
on the phone dealing with corporate and government bureaucracies trying to clear
your name, and you may even decide to hire a credit repair service to help you.
Even then, it may be years before you actually are able to clear the damage done
to your reputation.
70% of victims have trouble getting
rid of or are unable to delete negative
information in their records.19
Long-Term Effects of Identity Theft
A man lost his wallet and found out 20 years later that there were three active warrants
for his arrest; that he was listed as “armed and dangerous”; that he had accumulated
$50,000 in medical debt for hospital stays he had never taken; and that he had been issued
a new driver’s license in Florida. And the only reason he found out was because he was
refinancing his mortgage, and there was a credit and background check that turned up this
unfortunate information.20
How You Can Protect Yourself
General Tips
Awareness and education—Knowledge of the tricks and scams that thieves
use to try to obtain your personal information can go a long way toward
preventing identity theft. Be vigilant about sharing your personal details, and
try to stay up to date on the latest scams.
Common sense—Keep personal data private. When a person, website, or email
asks for your personal information, ask yourself if it is standard practice for such
information to be requested. Common sense will tell you that your bank would
never send you an email asking you to confirm your account number and Social
Security number or that it is not normal for a potential employer to ask for proof
of medical insurance.
Be aware of those around you—Be mindful of your environment and others
who may be in proximity when you make purchases over the phone, type in your
ATM PIN, enter your credit card while shopping online, text personal information,
or use your Social Security number for identification.
Online protection—When you are surfing the web, use a comprehensive security
suite, such as McAfee® Total Protection™ software, which not only protects you
against viruses, spyware, and other emerging threats, but also provides safe
search technology to help you steer clear of fake websites that try to collect
your information.
In addition, make sure you use a firewall to block unauthorized access to your
computer or network.
Use strong passwords—Passwords should be at least 10 characters long
and should consist of a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
Also, consider changing your passwords periodically to reduce the likelihood
that thieves can appropriate them and misuse them. Do not share passwords
with anyone—not even with friends and family.
Practice safe surfing on public hotspots—If you are using a public
computer or accessing the Internet from a public hotspot or an unsecured
wireless connection, do not log in to banking and credit card sites. Do your
surfing at home on a secure network.
Secure your wireless network—To prevent wardriving, enable the firewall
on your router and change the administrator’s password. Most routers come
with a default user name and password, allowing you to set up and configure
the router, but hackers are often familiar with these defaults. You may also
want to change the default identifier on your router that is used to announce its
presence to devices in the immediate area and permit access only from computers
or devices you designate. Check your router’s user manual to find out how to
change these default settings.
Review your financial statements promptly—Check your credit card and
bank statements each month to make sure there are no fraudulent charges
and to confirm that you authorized all transactions.
Shred documents—The only way to keep thieves from digging up your
personal information from the trash is to shred sensitive documents, such
as financial statements, credit card offers, and expired identification cards.
Get a locked mailbox—Traditional mailboxes make it too easy for crooks
to steal your bank statements and sensitive financial documents.
Keep your documents safe—Put personal documents in a lockable drawer,
safe, or cabinet at home, and consider storing valuable financial documents such
as stock certificates at your bank.
Monitor credit history—Because it can take a long time to discover that you’ve
become a victim of identity theft, you should monitor your credit history to see
if there are accounts or delinquent payments of which you may be unaware. There
are a number of websites that offer free access to your credit reports, as well
as paid services that monitor your credit for you.
Use a protection service—Identity protection services help safeguard your
identity by monitoring your credit, as well as providing proactive protection, such
as sending notifications when new accounts are opened in your name. These
services are usually provided for a monthly fee that includes free access to your
credit reports.
What to Do if You Become a Victim
If you discover that your identity has been compromised or stolen, take immediate steps to address
the situation.
1. Notify the credit bureaus and create a fraud alert
Call the fraud department of the three credit bureaus (Experian,
Equifax, and TransUnion) and notify them of the situation.
They can set up fraud alerts on your account that will require
creditors to call you before extending credit.
2. File a police report
If you know your identity has been stolen, file an identity
theft report with your local police department, which maintains a list of fraudulent accounts. Keep a copy of the report
so you can give the number of your investigator to creditors
and others who may ask you to verify that your identity has
been stolen.
3. Contact financial institutions and agencies where your accounts may be affected
Call your bank and creditors to inform them of the situation
and flag any fraudulent charges or withdrawals from your
accounts and then follow up in writing. Verify that the charges
have been removed from your accounts, and if necessary close
the account. Keep copies, document conversations, and maintain records related to the theft. If you believe that your Social
Security number has been compromised, contact the Social
Security Administration Inspector General to get a new number.
4. Put a credit freeze in place
You can block thieves from opening new accounts in your
name by freezing or locking access to your credit file at the
three credit bureaus. If a thief tries to open a new account,
he will be denied credit because the potential creditor or
service provider will not be able to check your credit file.
5. Notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Although the FTC does not investigate identity theft it
communicates with investigators across the country helping
to stop identity thieves.
6. Consider legal help or an identity restoration specialist
If you feel overwhelmed by the extent of the damage, you
may want to consider hiring legal counsel to help you deal
with debt collectors, credit bureaus, and creditors. Identity
restoration specialists can also help guide you through fixing
the problem. For instance, you can call the McAfee Cybercrime
Response Unit for free advice on what to do in the case of
identity theft.
Resources: Additional Information
Below is a list of sites that can help you understand more about identity theft and fraud
and how to protect yourself.
Identity Theft Information
Government Agencies
McAfee Cybercrime Response Unit
Federal Trade Commission (filing a complaint)
Identity Theft Resource Center
Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Assistance Center
Privacy Right Clearinghouse
Report Phishing
Internal Revenue Service
[email protected]
Federal Trade Commission
[email protected]
Anti-Phishing Working Group
[email protected]
1.877.IDTHEFT (438.4338)
Social Security Administration (reporting fraud)
Credit Bureaus
Free credit report
To report fraud: 1.888.397.3742
To report fraud: 1.800.525.6285
To report fraud: 1.800.680.7289
For more information and advice about computer and
Internet security, please visit the McAfee Security Advice
Center at www.mcafee.com/advice.
About McAfee
McAfee, Inc., headquartered in Santa Clara, California, is
the world’s largest dedicated security technology company.
McAfee is committed to relentlessly tackling the world’s
toughest security challenges. The company delivers proactive
and proven solutions and services that help secure systems
and networks around the world, allowing users to safely
connect to the Internet, browse and shop the web more
securely. Backed by an award-winning research team,
McAfee creates innovative products that empower home
users, businesses, the public sector and service providers
by enabling them to prove compliance with regulations,
protect data, prevent disruptions, identify vulnerabilities,
and continuously monitor and improve their security.
McAfee, Inc. 3965 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, CA 95054 1.866.622.3911 www.mcafee.com
The information in this document is provided only for educational purposes and for the convenience
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