What is identity theft?

You might hear stories on the news about stolen identities, but what is identity theft? When someone uses the personal information that identifies you, like your name, credit card number, or Social Security number to commit crimes like fraud, you have experienced what is identity theft.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 1 in 10 Americans, or 10 million people, learn the hard answer to the question what is identity theft firsthand. You or a friend, relative, co-worker, or acquaintance may have been the victim of identity theft. Renting properties, obtaining credit cards, and purchasing cell phone plans are just some of the transactions identity thieves may make under your name. You might not even realize that your identity has been stolen until it’s too late–when you see your soaring credit card bill, your damaged credit score, or the debt collectors come knocking. Knowing what is identity theft can help you stay vigilant.

Although it has been the subject of silly television and movie storylines, as anyone who has found what identity theft is can tell you, it is no laughing matter. Sometimes victims of identity theft are able to fix issues swiftly, but others spend a lot of time and money repairing their credit after seeing what is identity theft. Victims can miss out on job opportunities and get refused educational, automobile, or housing loans due to their damaged credit scores. And they could even be wrongfully arrested for crimes committed by the identity thefts! What is identity theft? It’ s something that can happen to any of us, so it is important to be educated on identity theft.

I know what is identity theft–but how do I know if mine has been stolen?

Now that you know the answer to what is identity theft, you should check your credit card accounts and bank statements every month and monitor your credit report regularly. This will help you notice any charges you did not make or incorrect information, which could indicate that your identity has been stolen.

The following situations are also a sign that you have been targeted by identity thieves:

  • You are contacted by bill collection agencies for debts that you did not incur.
  • A mortgage or car loan you apply for is held up by issues with your credit history.
  • You receive strange mail about an apartment you didn’t rent, a house you didn’t buy, or a job you’ve never had.

How long can I be affected by identity theft?

Though you may know what is identity theft, you can’t really predict how long the effects of identity theft will last. It depends on what kind of theft you’ve experienced, if the thief sold your information or passed it on to another criminal, if your identity thief is caught, and issues related to fixing your credit report.

Identity theft victims should check their financial reports, like credit card and bank statements, on a monthly basis, and their credit reports every three months in the first year, then once a year after that.

If you know firsthand what is identity theft, do not delay: take the steps to correct your financial records and contact companies that allowed fraudulent accounts. Call first, then follow up in writing.

How do thieves commit identity theft?

Thieves know what is identity theft and they’re adept at getting your personal information. Here are some of the ways they may target you:

Dumpster diving.

If you toss your mail without worrying about thieves, you may learn what is identity theft the hard way. Thieves root through garbage to find bills, pre-approved credit offers, and other papers full of your personal details. Thwart them by shredding all documents before trashing or recycling them.


An identity thief could work in a store or restaurant–they’ll steal your credit and debit numbers during legitimate transactions using special technology. Monitor your statements to catch them.


Thieves can masquerade as companies or financial institutions, sending you spam emails to trick you into divulging information. Never give out personal information online unless it is a verified transaction, lest you know what is identity theft through personal experience.

Changing your address.

A thief might change your address, sending your statements to an alternate location that allows them to get your information. Take note if you do not receive your bills or bank statements and inquire with the post office, or move to paperless statements and avoid the truth of what is identity theft!

Old-fashioned stealing.

Wallets, purses, mail, pre-approved credit offers, new checks or tax information–all of these items can be stolen by identity thieves to aid their cause. Be careful with your personal items in public, and check your mail frequently.


Identity thieves might even target financial institutions or other companies that have your personal information, using false pretenses to gain access. Make it more difficult for them by having different passwords for all of your accounts.

How do thieves use a stolen identity?

To fully understand what is identity theft, you should know how thieves may use a stolen identity:

Credit card fraud.

Thieves open new credit cards under your name, use them however they please, and let the bills build up. Debts incurred end up on your credit report. Or they’ll change your billing address on an existing card so that you never see your bills, allowing them to make purchases you won’t notice.

Phone or utilities fraud.

Like with credit card fraud, identity thieves can open a new landline or wireless account in your name, or charge up an existing account by changing your address. They’ll also use your name and information to get their own electricity, heating, or even cable television.

Bank or finance fraud.

Using your name or account number, thieves can create and use fake checks. They can also open a new account under your name to write bad checks, copy an existing ATM or debit card to make withdrawals online, or get a loan for themselves under your name!

Government documents fraud.

Thieves can even fool the government. They’ll get an official picture ID, like a driver’s license, issued under your name. They’ll use your Social Security number and name to receive government benefits. They’ll file fake tax returns using your information, making you criminally liable.

Other fraud.

What is identity theft? It also encompasses other fraud committed under your name. Thieves can get jobs under your Social Security number, rent properties under your name, seek medical treatment with your information, or even give out your information when they’re arrested, creating an arrest warrant under your name if they don’t show up for court!

Fighting identity theft

Avoid finding out what is identity theft firsthand with Certified Credit Experts! Call our Lee’s Summit locations at (816) 994-4600.

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