No one wants to be a victim of the many different types of identity theft. But you may be making identity theft easier for criminals through common habits.
Here are a few examples:
- Oversharing on social media
- Giving out your Social Security number too freely
- Tossing credit applications into the trash
Fraudsters know how to exploit small pieces of your personally identifiable information—also known as PII—for their gain and your loss.
An identity thief might use that information to access and drain your bank accounts, damage your credit, or more. It’s smart to understand the different ways fraudsters attack to help protect your information and finances.
In this article, you’ll learn 10 types of identity theft you should know about. You’ll also find some of the basic steps you can take to help you recover from identity theft.
1. Existing account takeover identity theft
The most common type of identity theft occurs when criminals access your existing accounts. Once they break in, fraudsters can charge your credit cards, file claims against your insurance policies, or otherwise drive your finances off a cliff.
The good news: This type of identity theft can be easy to spot if you check your accounts and statements regularly. That means at least once a week for bank accounts or credit cards and once a month for insurance claims.
Sometimes, criminals may make only small credit or debit charges that can be harder to notice, so be ready to comb through your statements carefully. Often, the criminals’ intent is to make bigger charges later.
2. New account identity theft
A thief can create a totally new account under your name using a variety of tactics. That might include digging credit card applications out of your trash and submitting them. Or it might involve scouring the Internet for your personal details.
This type of theft can be tough to spot. That’s because you won't know to look for fraudulent charges on a statement, because you probably won’t receive a statement. What to do? Check your credit report regularly to look for accounts you didn't open.
If you're not signed up for a credit monitoring service, you can request a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—once per year. You can do this at annualcreditreport.com.
3. Tax identity theft
You may not enjoy filing your taxes, but it's better than having an identity thief file them. Criminals use sophisticated scams to get their hands on your PII. Later, they may file a return and claim a refund.
Here are some scams you can watch for:
- Phone calls or text messages that look like they're from the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS will never ask for personal information via social media, text message or email, and it won't threaten legal action.
- Emails that look like they're from the IRS or a financial institution. It's called "phishing," and the goal is to get you to provide personal information or click on links that either lead to bogus websites or install malware—short for malicious software—on your computer.
If the IRS rejects your tax return, it may be a red flag someone else has already fraudulently filed a return in your name. Contact the IRS and ask questions. You may need to file a fraud claim using Form 14039. The IRS will verify your identity, and you'll get a PIN to use on future tax returns.
4. Medical identity theft
Medical identity theft could create a series of problems, and at least one of them is dangerous to your health. When an identity thief uses your health insurance to get medical care in your name, doctors may update your records with the imposter's medical information. This could lead to another doctor using the wrong information when treating you.
If the bogus medical bills come to you, you’ll need to dispute them. If the bills don't come to you, they'll go unpaid and your credit could get dinged. You may also have a hard time qualifying for life insurance if the premiums are based on the imposter's health records.
5. Employment identity theft
A scammer who can't get a job because of a criminal record or poor credit may steal your Social Security number to get a job in your name. When that employer reports income under your name and Social Security number, the IRS will probably want taxes—from you—on income the fraudster earned in your name.
This type of identity theft may also impact your Social Security benefits later on. One way to look for this type of theft is on your credit report. How? Check the soft inquiries section, and if you see any you don't recognize—employers or otherwise—contact that entity.
6. Child identity theft
Most adults know to check their credit reports regularly, but what if you're a kid? Scammers sometimes use children's Social Security numbers and other information to open new accounts, apply for government benefits, take out loans, and more. The child may not know their credit has been used to run up debt in their name until it's time to apply for school or car loans. Not a pleasant surprise.
Thieves can steal information from school databases or from accounts at your kid's favorite store. Keep your child’s details private—this includes birth date, address and Social Security number—and ask your school how it plans to protect any personal information in its databases.
Here are a few red flags that may signal child identity theft:
- You get a notice from the IRS that says your child owes taxes.
- You're declined government benefits.
- You get bills for unknown accounts.
Next step? Call the credit bureaus and request a manual check of the child's credit file.
7. Senior identity theft
Seniors face the same types of identity theft as other adults do. They may struggle with tax fraud, accounts being taken over, medical identity theft, and more. But seniors are more vulnerable to identity theft scams because they're often more trusting, less likely to monitor their financial accounts, have greater savings, or don't know what threats to look out for. This could result in greater financial loss, with little knowledge on how to address it and little money to fall back on.
8. Criminal identity theft
When a criminal gives someone else's information to a police officer, it's called criminal identity theft. The criminal may even have fake paperwork, like a copy of a driver's license, to back up the fake identity. If you're a victim of this type of theft, you may not be aware it happened until you apply for a position where you have to pass a background check.
To prevent this type of theft, always try to secure your personal information. Don't share too much on social media, and consider signing up for identity theft protection services.
9. Synthetic identity theft
Fraudsters sometimes use a combination of fabricated and real data to create a single fake identity. It’s called synthetic identity theft and often used to take out loans or sign up for credit cards.
Synthetic identity theft hurts retailers, accounting for most of the credit card fraud losses in the United States, but it also impacts consumers. If someone opens an account using your Social Security number—but the name and address are fabricated—it may not appear on your credit report. This makes it harder to catch the fraud, and it still may impact your finances.
10. Estate identity theft
Identity theft doesn't stop after death. A thief may use a deceased person's details to drain accounts, set up new loans, steal government benefits, and more. This type of identity theft typically impacts family members and friends of the deceased who were meant to receive an inheritance.
Here are a few steps to take to avoid estate identity theft after a loved one has died:
- Get copies of the official death certificate.
- Notify credit bureaus and the deceased’s relevant financial institutions.
- Address any outstanding debts.
- Terminate all accounts.
Recovering from different types of identity theft
It’s always smart to monitor your accounts regularly and act quickly if you see something wrong.
If you spot charges you didn't make on your statements, or you notice accounts you didn't open on your credit reports, contact the company immediately. Close the account. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. And put a fraud alert on your credit reports.
The FTC website has a guide with steps to help you recover from identity theft.