Identity theft is now a serious threat to individuals. Statistics show that 17.6 million (7%) persons in the U.S. above the age of 16 years, were victims of identity theft in 2014. Of this total, 86% experienced misuse of their credit card or bank account.
Identity theft can be described as an individual illegally obtaining goods, funds, or services under someone else's name. Generally, identity theft is perpetrated by a ring of criminals working together as an enterprise and less common to be done by a person working alone. Identity theft fraud generally does not happen as a one-off incident as it usually triggers a chain of other types of fraud on the victim.
‘Hit and Run’ theft, such as stealing credit card information and account logins and passwords, is the most common form of identity theft. Other but more complicated forms of identity theft include stealing Social Security numbers. In having someone’s Social Security number in combination with their date of birth and address, fraudsters might gain control of credit cards, loans, bank accounts, and so on.
The most common ways in which identity information is stolen are hacking and phishing, shoulder surfing, social engineering, mailbox theft, and trash digging. Taking the proper steps to protect against identity theft is crucial to ensuring your privacy. Actions to reduce your risk include:
- Keep your Social Security number concealed. Do not carry the card around with you and only use it when needed.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If anything is unexpectedly off, contact the biller.
- Store personal information in a secure place.
- Be cautious of possible phishing emails requesting personal information.
- Create online passwords that are difficult to guess.
If you believe that you have been a victim of identity theft the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can help you report and recover from identity theft with three steps:
- Tell the FTC what best describes your situation.
- Get a recovery plan: the FTC will help you create a personal recovery plan.
- Put your plan into action: when you create an account with the FTC, they will lead you through each recovery step, track your progress, and pre-fill forms and letters.
Access the FTC's webpage for identity theft: IdentityTheft.gov
In addition to reporting to the FTC:
- Contact your financial institution.
- Contact your state consumer protection office.
 Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2015, September). Victims of Identity Theft, 2014. Retrieved on October 26, 2018, from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/vit14_sum.pdf