Identity Theft

Common Ways Identity Theft Occurs

There are many ways for identity theft to occur. The incidents can range from having your debit or credit card used to purchase items to being denied loans from fraudulent credit reports. Using individual best practices reduces your risk.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the following are common methods used by identity thieves:

  1. Stealing: Wallets and purses; mail, such as credit card and bank statements; pre-approved credit offers; new checks; personnel records; passport or license; or tax information.
  2. Phishing: Fake email, spam, or pop-up messages look as if they are from actual financial institutions or businesses. You are requested to reveal your personal information in order to renew an account, receive the prize, etc.
  3. Dumpster Diving: Bills or other paper with personal information is taken from your trash.
  4. Changing Your Address: Billing statements in your name are diverted to another location by completing a "change of address" form.
  5. Skimming: Credit or debit card numbers are stolen by using a special storage device when processing your card.

What can happen if my information is stolen?

Identity thieves use your information to:

  • open a new credit account and never pay the bills; the delinquent account appears in your name on your credit report
  • open a phone, wireless, or utility account in your name and run up charges; or charge your existing account
  • get a driver's license in your name with their picture
  • get a job with your Social Security number
  • file a tax return, federal and/or state, using your identity
  • take a car loan in your name and never pay the balance
  • provide your information during criminal arrest
  • file for bankruptcy
  • receive government benefits
  • empty your savings account
  • rent a house in your name

How do I know if the threat is real?

Under current federal guidelines, SSN can be used by an employer or financial institution for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may require SSN for these same reasons. An SSN can be used to do a credit check by a landlord or loan company, as well as when you sign-up for a credit card. However, there are many times that SSN is used for record keeping.

An even greater risk comes from identity thieves posing to be representatives of a bank, credit card company, or government agency.

Deter identity theft. If someone asks for your SSN, ask:

  • why do you need my SSN?
  • how will it be used?
  • how do you protect it from being stolen?
  • what will happen if I don't give it to you?

Some institutions may not provide you services without your SSN. Having the answers to these questions will help you choose whether to give the information or not. It will also help you recognize fraudulent requests.

Signs that require immediate attention:

  • late or missing bills
  • receiving credit cards you did not apply for
  • calls or letters about purchases you did not make
  • suspicious purchases or withdrawals on your credit or bank statements
  • denials of credit or being offered less favorable terms for no apparent reason
  • a letter from the IRS indicating more than one tax return was filed with your SSN

Always review:

  • your credit report, which includes the accounts you have and your bill paying history
  • your bank statements, which you should check for any withdrawals or account activity you did not approve
  • your credit statements, which you may choose to receive online or place security alerts on in order to detect fraud
  • other financial statements

Why is my Social Security number a Privacy Risk?

The Social Security number (SSN) has been in use since 1936 when the Secretary of Health and Human Services created it as a means to administer the provisions of the Social Security Act. The SSN served as a means to identify, maintain, and disclose information about individuals.

During the 1970s when computer systems evolved, many companies and institutions were able to collect vast amounts of personal data, such as SSN and birth date, in relatively small storage space and with the ability to easily retrieve this personal information. The universal identifier used to retrieve an individual's data was the SSN.

The Privacy Act of 1974 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) stood, respectively, to protect individuals against unwarranted invasions of their privacy and maintain the privacy of student records. However, the volume of accessible identity information gave rise to one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States today—identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 10 million people were victims of identity theft in 2005, with a total cost to victims, government, and businesses of $55 billion (USD).

Educational institutions are at risk of identity theft because of the vast amounts of systems that use SSN, and paper and other electronic documents that include SSN.

More Identity Theft Resources

Identity Theft Video

FTC 10-Minute Video provides an overview of identity theft and outlines the steps consumers can take.

Identity Theft Web Resources

For Ohio Residents

The Identity Theft Verification Passport program provides identity theft victims a means of proving to law enforcement and creditors that their identity was stolen. This site also provides step-by-step information for identity theft victims, overviews of the Passport program, and resources for protecting your personal information.

In addition to the resources above, be sure to ask the financial institutions and businesses you share your personal information with for their privacy information.