What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when your personal and confidential information is stolen and used for someone else’s financial gain or other fraudulent purposes. The stolen information can include:
- Your Social Security number, driver’s license, or passport information
- Your banking or credit card information or PIN numbers
- Personal details, such as your birthdate, email, address, or phone number
Criminals called “scammers” will use many methods to steal your information and commit fraud, including ones that can lead to significant financial loss and damage to your credit score — so it’s important to report fraudulent activity or suspected identity theft as soon as possible.
Spotting an identity theft scam
Identity theft scammers may try to obtain your personally identifiable information (PII) via text, email, phone calls, and online and social media. Scammers will often try and deceive you into sharing personal information. The tips below can help you spot and protect yourself from scammers:
- Be wary of unsolicited communication: Scammers may reach out to you claiming to be your bank, a family member, your boss, or a company where you’re a customer in order to phish for your personal or financial information. Double-check who the communication is really coming from before you do anything else. To verify the sender, reach out yourself using official contact information.
- Look out for “red flags”: No matter the communication medium, “red flags” like misspellings, bad grammar, poor design, or urgent emotional pleas should all raise suspicion. These suggest you could be the target of a scam. When browsing the web, if you don’t see http:// and the “connection is secure” lock icon in the address bar, the website you’re browsing may be unsafe.
- Don’t share personal or financial information: Legitimate companies won’t ask you to share PII over text, email, or social media, but scammers will. Scammers may also call you to obtain your passwords or information access your accounts. In this situation, it’s best to hang up and contact the company or institution directly via a trusted phone number. Avoid opening unsolicited links or entering your PII on a website you reached through an unsolicited link.
- Safeguard your devices and accounts: Use strong, unique passwords for your online accounts to help prevent scammers from accessing them. If you have trouble remembering your passwords, you can use a password vault application to store your unique passwords. You can also turn on 2-factor authorization as an extra step.
Types of identity theft scams
Familiarizing yourself with common identity theft scams might help you recognize them if you’re ever a target.
- Phishing scams: In a phishing scam, criminals send fraudulent messages impersonating a legitimate company or organization to obtain or “phish” for your PII. This broad category of scams can include:
- Tech support scams, where scammers pretend to be tech support at a real company telling you to make updates to your account or billing information.
- Lottery scams, where scammers ask you to pay a fee or enter your information to claim a prize.
- Charity scams, where scammers solicit “donations” from targets but keep the money for themselves.
- Investment scams, where scammers promise great returns to obtain your financial details.
- Romance scams: In a romance scam, criminals invent a fake persona to build a relationship with their target and then ask the target to send money or personal information.