Identity Theft: 5 Real-Life Lessons
Today, we’d like you to meet five people. They’re all different but what unites them is their immediate experience with a crime called identity theft. Victims and an offender share their stories so that you know what to watch out for.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to impersonate you and gain something from it. Scammers are usually looking for a victim’s full name, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN), driver’s license, passport, and so on. They use these records to access credit, shift a breach of law, and more. Consequently, victims have to invest a lot of effort to prove they aren’t responsible for these misdemeanours. It may take years to repair the damage.
No one would want to fall prey to these scams. However, identity theft is becoming increasingly widespread. In the US alone, there were nearly 1.4M official ID theft complaints in 2021. We hope you won’t ever need to file such a complaint so have put the following practical tips to help you and your identity stay safe.
1. Don’t provide your Social Security number unless necessary
“Question when someone asks you for your SSN. I’m shocked by how often, when I ask, ‘Do you really need that?’ they say no. Well, don’t ask if you don’t need it.”
Amy Krebs, an identity theft victim,
as reported by Forbes
Amy Krebs from Ohio had just returned home on a Friday night when she learned about someone using her credit card account. An alert call from a credit card company marked the beginning of Amy’s long-term struggle with identity theft.
An impersonator used Amy’s Social Security number to open over 50 credit accounts to order various goods and services. The criminal even subscribed to a local newspaper! However, all orders were delivered to the impersonator’s address. This is what gave her away and led to the thief’s arrest and sentencing.
Still, Amy had a lot to do to get rid of all the debts resulting from this fraud. This motivated her to start a blog - http://www.akajanedoe.com - where she shares her experiences and tips on identity protection.
One of Amy’s recommendations is to be very careful with your personal information, especially your Social Security number. Whenever anyone requests your SSN, be sure to ask if it’s really needed. Never share it unless it is actually required.
2. Keep your Social Security card safe
“I was a dumb kid and I kept my Social Security card in my wallet… [Now,] at least 17 different people have my ID.”
Tony William Chilicas, an identity theft victim,
as reported by ABC15 Arizona
Tony Chilicas would never share his SSN without good reason. However, he made another mistake. Tony used to keep a Social Security card in his wallet, then in 2003 he lost it.
As a result, for over a decade he dealt with the consequences of SSN misuse. Tony couldn’t even get married officially, as he didn’t want to involve his fiancee in all the fraud-related paperwork.
Tony’s identity theft was revealed in 2006, when a man called Jorge Campos Ramirez used his documents to get a job. Furthermore, Tony found out that at least another 17 people took advantage of his stolen Social Security card.
Now Tony has to deal with the Internal Revenue Service attempting to tax him for all the fraudsters who earned money with his identity. “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me,” Tony says.
This all could have been avoided if Tony had kept his Social Security card in a safe place. So this is the obvious tip: don’t carry your SSN around unless you need to use it for a specific purpose.
3. Don’t leave your documents in the car
“My driver’s license was stolen from my car... Two months later, my driver’s license was used by a methamphetamine user.”
Anndorie Cromar, an identity theft victim,
as reported by Creditcards.com
Anndorie Cromar is a mother of four. In 2006, someone broke into her car and stole her driver’s license. Two months later she found out that it was used in a shockingly unexpected way. A drug-addicted woman gave birth to a baby under Anndorie Cromar’s name.
As drugs were found in the blood of the newborn, Child Protective Services became concerned. They even raised a question of taking Anndorie’s other children from her due to concerns over their wellbeing. The mother had to take a DNA test, hire an attorney, and go to court.
“Everybody knew I was being investigated by Child Protective Services,” Anndorie says. “It was humiliating.”
Although the situation was resolved and the thief caught, the driver's license identity theft was a devastating experience for Anndorie. Lesson learnt: keeping a driver’s license in the car is unsafe so storing it somewhere safe is worth the effort.
4. Get a lock for your mailbox
“I will walk up to a house and take the mail out… ‘Cause I don’t look like a criminal.”
Anonymous, a convicted identity thief,
as reported by ABC News
You can get a lot of practical tips from fraud victims but you can learn even more from an actual identity thief. Doug Shadel, former fraud investigator, managed to interview a convicted criminal to learn more about a number of their “professional” secrets.
Alice (not the thief’s real name) stole $900,000 in a three-month crime spree with a group of accomplices. While her accomplices specialized in faking IDs and computer fraud, Alice herself was adept at the basics such as stealing documents from cars and mailboxes. She told Doug it was relatively easy to grab correspondence from mailboxes without raising any suspicions.
Your mail may contain a lot of valuable personal details. Just as in our previous stories, they can be used for criminal purposes. To protect yourself, invest in a lock for your mailbox and don’t let any “Alices” learn your SSN or ID information.
5. Be cautious about identity theft notifications
“I lost $2,500 in an identity theft phone scam.”
Sam Fellman, a scam victim,
as reported by Business Insider
Sam Fellman wasn’t an identity theft victim, yet he lost thousands of dollars in the mistaken belief he became one.
How did it happen? Sam got a call from someone pretending to be a Social Security Administration employee. "Your Social Security number is being investigated for identity theft," the caller declared. Furthermore, they said Sam could face prosecution if he didn't collaborate.
In the course of more than three hours the caller forced Sam to stay on the line and swindled $2,500 from him using a combination of lies and threats. The “officer” stressed the confidentiality of the investigation to explain all the weird steps Sam had to take to comply. In particular, he had to purchase Google Play gift cards, then share the codes with the caller. After Sam shared the information, the call ended and the “SSA officer” vanished.
Here’s a whole bunch of lessons that can be learned from this fake identity theft story:
- Social Security Administration wouldn’t call a person like this. Usually, banks or creditors notify consumers of suspicious bank activities, not the SSA.
- There are no reasons for officials to keep secrecy or make a person wait on the phone. You can always hang up and call the institution yourself to verify the information.
- Time pressure and threats are signs of a scam. Instead of falling for them, you should research the caller’s phone number online to look for similar scam reports.
- An official would never make you buy gift cards or spend your money in any other way. Yet, a gift card scam remains a very popular trick.
We hope these real-life horror stories will help you avoid identity theft. If you want to know even more to secure yourself, check out Clario’s detailed guides: