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Understanding Identity Fraud


Identity fraud is a serious threat and one of the most common fears people have when it comes to fraud and scams. The thought of someone using your personal information to create new accounts, purchase homes, and more can make anyone more than casually concerned. However, understanding how identity fraud happens, how to detect it and what to do if it happens to you can help relieve those fears.

How do scammers get my information?

  • Scammers will use a variety of methods to obtain your personal information. From phishing emails attempting to lure you Into providing your information into a form online, data breaches of commonly used businesses, and by searching through social media accounts and posts. The scammers will seek out passwords, email addresses, credit card details, and social security numbers.
  • Scammers can trick people into providing this by posing as legitimate companies - however, most legitimate companies will never request any of this information in whole. They may ask you to confirm the last 4 digits, but they should never ask for the entire account number, your passwords, PINs, or SSN.
  • Another way that scammers can get your personal information is by purchasing it. Many websites offer the ability to run background checks, to provide address details and phone numbers - and that gives scammers access to you. Which in turn allows them to contact you and get what they need.

How do scammers use my stolen identity?

  • Once a scammer has your personal or financial information, they can use it to commit a variety of schemes and fraudulent activities. The more information they have obtained, the more they can do with it. Common things are opening credit card accounts, making large purchases, getting approved for loans, and committing tax fraud by filing fraudulent returns in order to claim refunds. Identity fraud can have serious financial and legal consequences. It will also impact your credit score and financial stability.

How do I know my identity has been stolen?

  • Being able to detect this type of fraud usually starts with checking your credit report regularly. Most of the main credit reporting bureaus have mobile apps or websites that allow you to check your credit report on a weekly basis. You can sign up for alerts through your credit cards or through the credit reporting bureaus. Look for new accounts, an increase of spending on an account you haven't used, new loans, and any new address information.
  • Monitoring your banking accounts and credit card activity can also lead to discovering identity theft has occurred. By finding unauthorized charges, or the payment of unexpected bills - this could be an indicator of someone using your identity for fraud.
  • You may receive invoices or letters of collection related to these fraudulent actives, so ensure you are checking your mail - even things you'd normally assume to be junk mail.

What do I do if I have my identity stolen?

  • If you believe you've been a victim of identity fraud, you'll want to take action immediately to ensure the damage is minimized. Contact your bank and credit cards to report any unauthorized transactions - and follow any procedures they lay out for you.
  • Visit the websites of all three credit bureaus and put a freeze on your credit reports in order to stop any additional accounts to be opened.
  • Residents of Illinois should be aware that the Attorney General's Office created the first-ever Illinois Identity Theft Hotline. The hotline provides Illinoisans who have been victimized by identity theft with one-on-one assistance as they work to report the incident to financial institutions and local law enforcement, repair their credit, and prevent future problems.

Identity fraud can happen to anyone and should never be seen as something to blame yourself for. By taking proactive steps and staying aware of your credit report and banking activity, you can reduce your risk. Use unique passwords for all of your accounts and ensure they are not associated to easily recognized words or things associated to you personally. Keep an eye on your social media content and friends - hacking of social accounts happens more often than one would believe and scammers love gaining access to personal information that is being shared socially. 

While it might seem overwhelming to keep up with everything, by making a habit or routine, you can easily stay on top of things and ensure you're the first to know when something happens.

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