What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity or personal information—such as your name, your driver's license, or your Social Security number—without your permission to commit a crime or fraud. There are many different types of identity theft that can occur as criminals are always looking for new ways to exploit consumer information.

How Is Your Identity Stolen?

Your identity and personal information is always at risk and can be stolen long before you realize you're a victim. In most cases of identity theft, you don't find out you are a victim until you review your credit card statement or receive notices in the mail about new accounts you didn't open, charges you didn't make, or until you're contacted by a debt collector.

There are a lot of signs of identity theft to look out for. Here is a list of the 10 most common ways your identity may be stolen and 5 ways that information is used:

10 Common Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen

  1. Data Breaches
  2. Internet Hacking
  3. Dark Web Marketplaces
  4. Malware Activity
  5. Credit Card Theft
  6. Mail Theft
  7. Phishing and Spam Attacks
  8. WiFi Hacking
  9. Mobile Phone Theft
  10. ATM Skimmers

5 Common Ways Your Identity is Used

  1. Thieves open fraudulent credit card accounts in your name.
  2. Thieves use your credit cards or account numbers to make purchases.
  3. Thieves sell your personal information on the dark web—Social Security number, credit card, and account information—to commit credit fraud, medical fraud and more.
  4. Thieves file fraudulent taxes and/or steal your tax refunds.
  5. Thieves know your account passwords, bank PIN numbers or other passwords to access your computer, your financial accounts or use your Social Security number and other personal information to gain access or even commit child ID theft.

How Identity Theft Can Affect You

Being a victim of identity theft can affect you through immediate financial loss, damage to your credit, emotional distress, plus time and energy to resolve. Identity theft puts your personal information at risk, globally, to individuals and organized crime while going unnoticed.

That damage can result in late payments, harm done to your credit, and even IRS penalties requiring investigations and long-term assistance if you are a tax ID theft victim. It can also result in losing account access, having your personal accounts taken over by thieves and general loss of data privacy.

What if You Think You're a Victim of ID Theft?

If you think you are a victim of identity theft immediately submit a report about the theft to the Federal Trade Commission's website (

You will also want to alert the holder of the fraudulent debt or the company involved in the identity theft and report it to the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file.

If you contact Experian, they will share the alert with the other bureaus. From there, you can then decide whether to start the process of further protecting your identity moving forward.

8 Steps to Take if You Think You Are Victim of ID Theft:

  1. File an identity theft report with the FTC
  2. Add a 90-day fraud alert to your credit report
  3. Review your Experian Credit Report
  4. Notify Experian to resolve fraudulent activity on your credit report
  5. Add a 7-year fraud victim alert to your credit report
  6. Notify lenders and credit card companies
  7. Report your victimization to state and federal agencies
  8. Continue to monitor your credit for anything suspicious

If you know your personal information has been compromised or in fact stolen, you may want to consider locking or freezing your credit reports.

You also should understand how to stay ahead of any future identity theft issues and learn more about how to protect your personal information along with what to do after a data breach.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.

This article was originally published on January 26, 2018, and has been updated.

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