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Identify theft occurs when crooks steal pieces of personal information that belong to another individual and use that information to conduct transactions in the individual's name. Identity thieves need only a minimal amount of information to steal personal identities and begin conducting crimes against victims.

Here is some more information about identity theft and how to protect yourself.

Once an identity thief steals personal information, they begin committing crimes in the name of the victim:

  • Opening checking accounts and writing bad checks
  • Setting up new credit card accounts, charge transactions, and then not pay the bill
  • Establishing personal or vehicle loans and lines of credit
  • Getting cash advances
  • Obtaining employment
  • Renting a home and avoiding the rent payments

These crimes are all committed in the name of the victim, but it often takes weeks or months for the victim to realize any crime has occurred. Victims typically aren't aware of any wrongdoing until he/she receives notification from collection agencies or is denied for a loan/credit because of negative credit ratings. Once the victim becomes aware of the wrong-doing, it can take many hours, an average of 10 hours according to the FTC, of straightening matters out before his/her identity can be reclaimed. Often, the victim must close already established accounts, credit cards, etc and reopen new ones to prevent the thief from further wrongdoing. The average loss for identity theft victims in 2007 was $500.

The most common ways identity information can be stolen

  • Mail Theft — Thieves steal mail containing personal and financial information from unlocked mail boxes.
  • Dumpster Diving — Unshredded personal information is stolen from trash cans.
  • Internet — Spyware is remotely installed on your computer without your knowledge and the thief then has access to any transaction you conduct online.
  • Phishing Scams — Thieves send fake e-mails or make calls identifying themselves as trusted financial institutions trying to obtain financial and personal information.
  • Theft — Stolen purses and wallets contain a great deal of personal information, thieves can use it to steal victims' identities, or sell it to other thieves who will. Also, dishonest individuals who have legitimate access to your personal information can steal it.

Tips to protect your information from identity thieves

  • Do not print Social Security number on checks.
  • Be aware of phishing scams, never release your personal information to someone who calls you. Legitimate financial institutions will never contact you and ask for your private information.
  • Shred all paperwork that contains sensitive information, including preapproved credit offers and account statements.
  • Review financial statements each month: credit cards, accounts, phone bills. Alert institutions immediately of discrepancies!
  • Check your credit report annually. A report from each of the three major credit bureaus is available at no charge once a year at
  • Use a program such as Deluxe Provent to monitor your credit reports.

Every 2.1 seconds in the United States, someone falls victim to identity theft.