Identity theft occurs when someone steals the social security number, credit card numbers, bank statements or other sensitive financial documents and uses the information to commit fraud. Thieves can either run up your existing credit cards or open new accounts in your name, causing extensive damage to your credit score.
Identity thieves have a wide variety of methods for getting people's personal financial information. This can be done by stealing documents from the mail or garbage, stealing the individual's purse or wallet. It can also be done through the use of fraudulent emails, known as phishing or swiping the card into a small storage device that records the credit card account information for future use.
Once they get the information, what thief do with your identity? There are many things the identity thief can do with your personal information. The simplest is to make purchases with your credit cards and leave you stuck with massive bills. Only when you get your credit card statement in the mail will you learn the full amount of the damage to your credit rating.
Thieves often change the billing address on your credit card statements by stealing the statement and completing the change of address portion on the back of the statement. They request the change of address, so you do not get your bills in the mail. This buys the thief more time to run up your cards before you notice the damage.
Identity thieves also open new accounts using your social security number and personal information. If they are able to steal a preapproved credit offer from the mail, your purse, car or home, this job is even easier. The new card is sent to another address and the victim often has no idea that the theft has occurred until they are turned down for a car loan or mortgage.
Credit cards are only part of what can be done with personal information, once it is stolen. The identity thief can open a new telephone account, purchase a cell phone plan, electric service, satellite or cable television or other services and products, using your social security number and personal information.
Thieves can open new bank accounts, as well as new credit card accounts. They can also send for new checks with your name and account number and forge the checks to steal money from your account. The same can be done electronically, using your ATM card or cloning your card with a special electronic reader and storage device.
Victims of identity theft have even had the person take out loans in their name. This can be done with vehicle loans and personal loans. Again, since the thief has changed the address, you may have no way of knowing you are a victim until you check your credit report or bill collectors track you down and begin demanding payment for the items purchased with stolen cards.