There are lots of ways that identity theft can happen—and the results can be devastating. In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 1.1 million reports of identity theft. Consumers lost close to $8.8 billion. Knowing what to look out for could prevent you from being victimized. Here are 20 different types of identity theft to have on your radar.
1. Account Takeover Fraud
This is when someone gains access to your accounts without your permission or knowledge. Creating strong passwords and safeguarding your private information is your first line of defense. Using multifactor authentication can also help protect your login information and prevent account takeover fraud. If someone breaks into your bank account, they could:
- Withdraw money
- Transfer funds
- Make fraudulent transactions
- Find their way into other accounts
Seeing account activity you don't recognize is a red flag for this type of identity theft.
2. Debit Card Fraud or Credit Card Fraud
If your debit or credit card is stolen, the perpetrator could use it to drain your bank account or rack up debt in your name. The latter could hurt your credit and cause a tremendous amount of stress. You'll want to dispute fraudulent charges with each credit card company, and you have the right to place a security freeze on your reports with the main credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). If the fraud took place with your debit card, be sure to notify your bank right away.
Keep in mind that you can still be victimized even if you never lose your debit or credit card. A fraudster can do plenty of damage with your card number, expiration date and security code.
3. Driver's License Identity Theft
Your driver's license can be very useful to identity thieves. It provides personally identifiable information (PII) like your:
- Date of birth
- Driver's license number
This information could get out if your wallet is stolen or your PII is involved in a data breach. Scam artists may use it to open accounts in your name, create fraudulent driver's licenses or collect government benefits that are rightfully yours. They could even use your driver's license to avoid traffic citations, which could impact your driving record.
4. Mail Identity Theft
This can happen if someone:
- Steals checks out of your mailbox and then alters and cashes them
- Intercepts credit cards, debit cards or account statements that have been mailed to you
- Goes through your garbage in search of mail that has personally identifiable information
- Sends you phony information about a cash prize, lottery or sweepstakes
5. Online Shopping Fraud
This type of identity theft typically happens in one of the following ways:
- An identity thief hacks into one of your online shopping accounts. If someone gets into your Amazon account, for example, they could use your saved payment methods to make unapproved purchases.
- You use an unfamiliar Wi-Fi network. A criminal could set up a seemingly legitimate network with the intention of stealing the information of anyone who connects to it. It's wise to do banking and online shopping on a private network.
- A hacker compromises an online shopping website. This can provide easy access to customer accounts and payment information. Another scam is to redirect customers to a phony website that asks for their payment details. Misspellings, low-quality images or too-good-to-be-true deals may be signs of fraud.
6. Social Security Number Identity Theft
Social Security fraud happens when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) for their own financial gain. Criminals could use it to collect government benefits in your name or sell your information on the dark web. They may contact you over the phone posing as a representative from the Social Security Administration. Your information could also get out if your Social Security card is stolen or someone finds personal documents that contain your SSN.
Get in the habit of shredding documents that contain personally identifiable information before throwing them away. Also be sure to store your Social Security card in a secure place. If you notice variations of your SSN on your credit report, that may suggest that you've been the victim of fraud. You can report concerns to the Social Security Administration and notify your state's tax office.
7. Senior Identity Theft and Scams
Seniors may be especially vulnerable to identity theft and fraud. Scammers could:
- Pose as a representative from a bank or credit card company who needs your login information
- Pretend to be someone from a government agency who needs you to verify your personal information
- Use artificial intelligence to impersonate a loved one who needs money
- Send phishing emails, which may contain threats or an urgent request to act quickly
Remind older family members to never share their personal information over the phone or through email.
8. Child Identity Theft
Many cases of child identity theft are instances of familiar fraud. This is when a friend or family member is the perpetrator. They may use a child's personal information to open fraudulent accounts, apply for government benefits or take out loans. That could wreak havoc on the child's credit file.
Minors shouldn't have a credit report at all. If they do, it's a sign that they may have been the victim of identity theft. Other warning signs include:
- Receiving bills or credit card offers in your child's name
- Being contacted by debt collectors regarding your child
- Learning that your child's social media accounts have been hacked
You have the right to dispute any fraudulent activity on your child's credit report. You also have the right to freeze your child's credit, which can prevent additional fraud.
9. Tax Identity Theft
This often occurs when someone files a tax return in your name in order to collect a refund. Tax identity theft may go unnoticed until you attempt to file a legitimate return—only to learn that one has already been processed. Be on the lookout for phone calls or emails from "the IRS" that:
- Ask for your personal information
- Demand payment for overdue taxes
- Request bank information so you can receive your refund
- Take a threatening tone
Remember that the IRS won't contact you by phone or email without notifying you by mail first.
10. Biometric ID Theft
You can probably unlock your phone using your fingerprint or facial or voice recognition. Biometric ID theft uses the same idea to gain access to people's devices, bank accounts and digital wallets. A con artist could use a copy of your fingerprint or a high-resolution photo of you to unlock a device.
Make sure you know who's storing your biometric data—and that it's being stored safely. If it isn't, you can always opt out. Keeping up with software updates can also help protect your biometric data.
11. Synthetic Identity Theft
Synthetic ID fraud is a sophisticated type of identity theft that uses real personal consumer data. A criminal may start with a variety of different Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses—then blend them together to create fictitious identities that are designed to look like creditworthy consumers. They can use these profiles to:
- Open new accounts
- Apply for credit
- Receive loans
- Commit other types of financial crimes
It's possible that some of your personal information could get mixed up in a synthetic ID scam. If you receive mail at your address in someone else's name or get phone calls asking about new accounts, those could be warning signs.
12. Medical Identity Theft
Someone could use your information to receive medical services in your name—and then stick you with the bill. That can include fees for:
- Office visits
- Lab work
- Medical equipment
- Hospital services
- Urgent care visits
Medical identity theft can also happen if someone files a fraudulent medical insurance claim. Pay attention to communications from your health insurer and medical providers. If you've been victimized, you can file a police report and contact your insurer and medical providers to correct any errors in your file.
13. Mortgage Fraud
Borrowers and lenders can both be guilty of mortgage fraud. It happens when someone deliberately lies or deceives a mortgage underwriter or other party involved in processing a home loan. That may relate to funding, purchasing or insuring a mortgage loan. The best way to avoid mortgage fraud is to be honest, work with reputable professionals and review all loan documents carefully.
Mortgage fraud can also occur if an identity thief steals a homeowner's Social Security number or gains access to their mortgage account number. They could use that information to take out a home equity loan or line of credit.
14. Home Title Fraud
Home title fraud is when someone comes into possession of your property title—then uses other personal information to transfer ownership to themselves. They could use your home equity to take out loans and lines of credit that they never repay, which could lead to foreclosure.
You might prevent home title fraud by periodically checking your home information with your county's deed office. If you receive mail at your address in someone else's name, or stop receiving your tax bill or mortgage bill, those could be red flags.
15. Lost or Stolen Passport
There are plenty of criminals who would love to get their hands on your passport number. They might be able to sell it on the dark web or use it to falsify travel documents for those willing to pay top dollar for them. Keep your passport safe and secure while at home and when traveling. The U.S. Department of State also recommends carrying copies of your Passport ID page while overseas.
If your passport is lost or stolen, you can invalidate it by reporting it missing. If you're out of the country, contact your local embassy or consulate for assistance. You'll need a valid ID to reenter the United States.
16. Internet of Things Identity Fraud
Your phone, laptop and home appliances might all be connected to each other. That can certainly make life easier, but it's also a vulnerability point for hackers. If there's a security flaw in an internet-connected device, your personal data may be at risk.
Securing your home's wireless network is a good place to start. Make sure all devices that are connected to your network have strong passwords. It's also good practice to check your credit report at least once a year for suspicious activity.
17. Friendly Identity Theft
Friendly fraud occurs when a consumer makes a purchase, then disputes the charge with their bank or credit card company, claiming it was fraudulent. They might say they didn't authorize the purchase, or that they never received the products or services—then ask for a refund. This is the equivalent of shoplifting. Staying honest and following the law is the only way to avoid friendly identity theft.
18. Employment Fraud
You may see job postings that sound too good to be true. They might promise the chance to make lots of money without putting in much work. Once you're drawn in, the scammer may require you to buy mandatory supplies or training materials that end up being worthless. Some "employers" might also write bad checks or charge your credit card without your permission.
Be sure to evaluate every job posting carefully and do your own research to ensure it's a legitimate company. Check customer and employee reviews, as well as any complaints with the Better Business Bureau.
19. Unemployment Fraud
Criminals could steal your identity and use it to collect unemployment benefits in your name. You might learn of the fraud when tax season rolls around and you receive IRS Form 1099-G. This shows unemployment compensation you received and any federal income tax that was withheld. Unemployment benefits are considered taxable income, which could trigger a tax bill. You can report unemployment insurance fraud through the U.S. Department of Labor.
20. Crypto Fraud
- Try to convince people to buy fake cryptocurrency
- Pressure people to transfer their cryptocurrency to an "investment manager" who can grow their wealth
- Pose as a love interest who asks to borrow cryptocurrency
- Threaten to share your personal data if you don't transfer your cryptocurrency immediately
These scams typically have a sense of urgency that's designed to make you act quickly.
Warning signs of potential identity theft include:
- Seeing strange or unknown activity on your credit report
- Receiving unfamiliar bills or communication from debt collectors
- Getting mail sent to your address in someone else's name
- Noticing charges on your bank or credit card statements that you didn't authorize
- File an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can do this online or call 877-IDTHEFT.
- File a police report, which will protect you if a criminal uses your information to commit crimes.
- Notify the organizations that were impacted by the fraud. That may be your bank, credit card company, insurer or medical providers. Follow their instructions for disputing the fraud.
- Dispute fraudulent activity on your credit reports.
- Consider placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports to prevent additional fraud.
Identity theft insurance is designed to protect you if you're the victim of identity theft. That can provide peace of mind and financial relief. It usually doesn't cover direct losses, but it can cover lost wages, legal fees and other expenses.
Experian IdentityWorks℠ provides monthly privacy scans, identity theft monitoring, dark web surveillance, fraud resolution and the ability to lock and unlock your credit file as needed.
The Bottom Line
Knowing about different types of identity theft could help you spot potential scams—and avoid being victimized. If it's already happened to you, know that it's possible to bounce back and financially recover. Free credit monitoring with Experian can help you move forward with confidence and stay up to date with what's on your credit report.
Learn More About the Different Types of Identity Theft
- What Is Identity Theft and How Do I Make Sure It Doesn’t Happen to Me?
Identity theft can ruin your life, so it's important to know how to spot it and how to protect yourself from cybercriminals. Here's what you need to know.
- What Is Account Takeover Fraud and How Can You Prevent It?
Account takeover fraud is a common result of identity theft. You can’t prevent it entirely but you can secure your accounts and limit the damage.
- What Should I Do if My Driver’s License Number Is Stolen?
Identity thieves can use driver’s license information to create fake licenses, open accounts, evade traffic violations or collect government benefits.
- How to Prevent Debit Card Fraud
Reviewing bank statements regularly and reporting fraud immediately can help you minimize loss from debit card fraud.
- How to Prevent Medical Identity Theft
Medical identity theft is a potentially life-threatening form of fraud that occurs when someone uses your information to get medical goods or services.
- 7 Red Flags to Look for When Shopping Online
Shopping online can be convenient and help you save money. But you have to watch out for scammers.