Identity theft has been an issue for as long as the concept of a personal identity has existed, but in this current age of digital dominance, it’s easier to get taken advantage of than ever before. According to Javelin Research, in 2018, around 14.4 million people were victims of some form of identity theft in the US.
Picture this, you arrive home after a stressful day at work, only to be startled by an unexpected phone call. Upon receiving the call, to your horror, the voice in your ear tells you that you owe taxes that the government hasn’t received, and that you can be arrested if the situation isn’t straightened out immediately. You rush to comply with the demands of who you assume to be an IRS officer and provide him with your name, address, and social security number through a legitimate-looking email form. Little to your knowledge, the “officer” you’ve been talking to for the last hour is actually a criminal, whose sole goal is to manipulate you into getting your personal information. With this information, he can do many things, including filing a tax return under your name, so he can get your tax refund sent directly to him. This is a type of identity theft called tax identity theft.
Tax identity theft can be completed through social engineering of the victim and is a type of scam that is typically easier to perform on victims who aren’t tech-savvy, most commonly older folks. Combatting this type of a scam is straightforward. The real IRS will never call, email, or text you, so if you receive a message from someone claiming to be from the IRS, just ignore it. If you find that someone has already filed a tax return under your name, you can contact the IRS and file a fraud claim.
Other forms of identity theft may be harder to perceive if you’re not looking for the right thing. Financial identity theft is the most common form of identity theft and is when a person uses someone else’s personal information for their own financial gain. There are many ways this can be done, from opening up credit cards under your name, to using your banking information to make purchases. Always check your bills for things you didn’t purchase, and make sure to investigate suspicious activity in any of your online accounts, including your banks. Remember, the best way to not become a victim of financial identity theft is to limit the amount of information you give to people in real life, as well as online. Use long passwords or two-stage login systems to ensure that your most important accounts can't be breached by unwanted intruders.
Other, less common, forms of identity theft can take place as well, but as long as you use common sense when dealing with your personal information, you should have nothing to worry about. Identity theft may seem daunting at first, but it’s a very manageable problem that can be avoided the majority of the time.
For more information on identity theft please visit: www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft