A common misconception about identity theft is that it only happens to wealthy adults. Why would anyone bother stealing the identity of a child, a college student, or a person who can barely make ends meet?
The fact is identity theft can take on my different forms, depending on the information stolen, which means that anyone can be a victim. These types of crimes can not only cost victims their money, but it can also be damaging to their well-being.
While it may be impossible to guarantee that you avoid identity theft, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent it from occurring. It’s also important to be aware of the different signs associated with identity theft so that you can take the necessary steps to fix any problems in case your identity is stolen.
Below is a list of several particularly dangerous types of identity theft and what steps you can take to try to avoid having your identity stolen.
Child Identity Theft
What it is: Identity thieves will steal a child’s Social Security number which they can then use to open bank and credit card accounts or to apply for government assistance, a loan or utility service.
Why it is dangerous: Because most children won’t find out they have been a victim of identity theft until they are much older and apply for a credit card or their first loan when they will get denied due to poor credit history.
Warning Signs: There are several warning signs to pay attention to and that can tip you off to the fact that an identity thief is using your child’s personal information for fraudulent reasons which include:
- You get turned down for government benefits because the benefits that you applied for are being paid to the person who stole your child’s personal information.
- You receive a notice in the mail from the IRS stating that your child didn’t pay income taxes.
- You begin to receive collection calls or bills for products or services that you didn’t order or receive.
How to avoid: Typically when applying to a school for your child, you’ll be required to fill in personal, and possibly even sensitive information. Ask the school how the information will be used and stored and what they do with any paperwork that’s thrown away. Since your child’s personal information is protected by law, you have every right to ask the school and any other organizations that your child is a part of to make sure that they have safeguards in place to protect any sensitive information that can help reduce identity theft.
Another step to take to protect yourself from this type of identity theft is to make a request for a credit report at Annual Credit Report which you should then inspect for any errors or accounts that you didn’t open. The three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, Trans Union) are required by law to provide you with a free credit report once every year. You can spread out your report requests from each agency or have them done simultaneously.
Finally, you can do a background check doing a reverse social security number search to make sure that someone else hasn’t stolen your child’s information.
Medical Identity Theft
What it is: Medical ID theft is when a your name, Social Security number or health insurance ID are used fraudulently by a scammer to see a doctor, submit claims with your insurance provider, buy drugs or expensive medical equipment, or receive other care.
Why it is dangerous: This type of identity theft doesn’t get as much attention as it should by consumers as many don’t realize that their medical information is a target for identity thieves. However, don’t be deceived as a a report by the Ponemon Institute recently found medical identity theft rose 22% in 2014.
This type of fraudulent activity carries similar financial implications to other types of identity theft which can ruin your credit, however medical ID theft can have additional consequences. For example, it can result in your health information being mixed with the cyber criminal’s history, which could lead to a potentially devastating mistake when you go to receive medical care. Additionally, if the criminal uses your insurance to purchase multiple prescription drugs, you might get flagged in the system which can result in law enforcement showing up at your door.
Warning signs: Take the time to read your medical and insurance statements regularly and completely as you can possibly detect signs of medical theft identity.
Signs that someone is using your medical information for nefarious purposes includes:
- Receiving a bill for medical services you never received
- Getting a letter from your health plan provider stating that you reached your benefit limit
- Getting a denial of insurance due to your records showing a condition that you don’t actually have
- Receiving a call from a debt collector about a medical debt that you’re sure you don’t owe
- Seeing medical collection notices on your credit report that aren’t yours
How to avoid: Always read the data privacy statement your healthcare provider gives you to make sure you understand what they are doing with any of your sensitive information before agreeing to any of their terms and conditions.
You should also be very wary if you get an offer of “free” health services or products, yet are required to provide your health plan ID or other sensitive information.
Make sure that you don’t share medical or insurance information by phone or email unless you know who is on the receiving end of the information. If someone calls or email from the insurance company or hospital asking you for your medical information, tell them that you’ll call them back, and then make sure that the number you call belongs to the party that you’re supposed to contact.
Criminal Identity Theft
What it is: This type of ID theft occurs when someone who gets arrested pretends to be you and gives authorities your identifying information.
Why it is dangerous: If you fall victim to this type of identity theft, you may end up having problems with law enforcement or be unable to gain employment or rent an apartment.
Warning signs: As a victim, you most likely will not know that your information has been compromised until it is too late. The warning signs of criminal identity theft include:
- Pursuant to a routine traffic stop you end up getting arrested and taken to county jail even though you know that you haven’t committed any crimes
- A letter from the state looking to collect on fines for driving related incidents that you didn’t commit
- You get denied from a job or from renting an apartment due to a criminal past
How to avoid: If you ever lose your driver’s license or passport, make sure to file a police report so that you can create a paper trail in case your identity gets stolen. This will help prove to banks, credit card companies, and law enforcement agencies that any fraudulent financial activity or illegal misconduct was the work of identity thieves.
You can also do a criminal background check on yourself to make sure that your identity hasn’t been used by an impostor.
Tax Identity Theft
What it is: A cyber criminal will use your social security number to receive any tax refund that’s owed to you or apply for a job.
Why it is dangerous: Typically, identity thieves file a false return early in the year so you may be unaware that you are a victim of this type of identity theft until later on when you file for taxes. Additionally, it can impact how and when your tax return is processed.
Warning signs: Be alert to the following signs that could indicate that your Social Security was used for tax-related identity theft:
- You receive a notice from the IRS stating that you owe additional tax or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return
- You receive a pre-paid debit card that has no money left on it
How to avoid: File your income taxes as early as possible within each tax season and make sure that you shred any and all documents with your personal information on it.
If you receive an email, text or social media message from the “IRS” that asks for personal or financial information, make sure to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at the following number: 1-800-908-4490.
You can also conduct a background check which can help pinpoint whether your identity has been stolen.
By protecting your personal information, you could help curb this crime and keep yourself from becoming a victim. Always be on the look out for any of the warning signs listed in this article and make sure to take advantage of your opportunity to request a free credit report so that you can check for any unexpected records on your credit report which could signal account fraud.