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Lower your risk of identity theft by recognizing the common strategies criminals use to steal your information

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Identity theft is a multi-faceted crime that can involve a number of deceptive practices. Understanding identity theft and the different strategies thieves use to commit this crime can help you protect your information and lower your risk of becoming a victim.

Experts define identity theft as the deliberate use of another person’s identity, which often involves using a victim’s Social Security number, financial or medical information, driver’s license, identifying details or tax records to impersonate them. By using another person’s identity, criminals can secure lines of credit, employment and even medical services under their victim’s name.

Criminals may use a number of strategies to commit their crime, and many of them involve simple tactics that may go unnoticed if you’re not looking for them.

Old-Fashioned Methods

1. Dumpster Diving. Thieves can gain access to pre-approved credit card offers, utility and mortgage bills and financial statements if you do not shred them before you toss them in the trash.
2. Stealing Your Purse/Wallet. Old-fashioned theft can lead to a breach of your identity, especially if you carry credit cards, your driver’s license, insurance and Social Security card with you.
3. Mail Theft. Instead of waiting for you to throw old bank statements away, criminals may sift through your mailbox to take financial documents.
4. Child Identity Theft. More criminals are stealing the identities of children because they have a clean credit slate and thieves can operate under their information for years without being detected. Children often don’t find out they are victims to identity theft until they apply for a line of credit or first job during their teenage or adult years.
5. Check Fraud. Ordering and writing checks in another person’s name will allow criminals to easily make purchases or drain a victim’s account.

New Methods

1. Phishing. Criminals commonly gain access to online data by tricking victims into revealing their personal information. This usually involves sending emails or pop-ups that direct users to a link, which subsequently asks for personal information in order to receive a prize or reward.
2. Data Breaches. Thieves may be able to access the databases of medical offices, insurance agencies and financial institutions if their security networks are not strong. In doing so, criminals may obtain customer information, ranging from Social Security numbers and date of birth to financial information.
3. Skimming. Tech-savvy criminals may place a skimming device within an ATM or credit card reader at gas stations, restaurants or other areas where debit and credit cards are accepted. When you swipe your card, the device records your payment information, allowing the thief to make a duplicate copy of your card.
4. Pretexting. In some cases, criminals may obtain the information they need to commit their crimes directly from you. They may pose as businessmen, attorneys or financial institutions to secure your personal data. After they have secured your data, they may use the information to commit identity theft or sell your details to other criminals.
5. Wireless Networks. Some thieves may prey upon individuals who are accessing an unsecured wireless network. Criminals can tap into these networks to mine for your personal data.

Identity theft affects millions of Americans each year, and protecting your personal information is pivotal to lowering your risk. There are a number of ways you can safeguard your identity.

1. Shred your mail.
2. Avoid carrying more credit cards than you need.
3. Keep your passport, Social Security card, medical records and financial information locked in a safe place.
4. Never give out personal information to strangers over the phone or via email.
5. Make sure your computer security and anti-virus systems are up-to-date.

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