Identity theft is a crime as old as time. There are two famous real-life cases from the 16th century. In the first instance, a Frenchman poses as a long-lost husband returning to his wife after years of separation. (The story of Martin Guerre has been retold countless times, including as a Richard Gere movie and a Simpsons episode.) In the second case, some guy claims to be the son of Ivan the Terrible and manages to take the Russian throne before being found out as a phony. In both instances, the imposter is eventually exposed and executed.
That was 500 years ago. Today’s identity thieves have less ambitious goals than using false pretense to assume control of a monarchy. They are more like the Martin Guerre impersonator: a mooch who waltzes into your life and helps themselves to your resources. That is still oversimplified. The digital revolution, explosions of data, and a world of virtual transactions have given rise to a new era of faceless posing and thievery. “Identity theft” has evolved into a catch-all term that encompasses many crimes which share the hallmarks of fraud. Some of the labels are overlapping.
Here are the most common types of identity theft to be aware of in 2021:
- Account Takeover – like social media account takeover, email hijacking, or bank accounts being drained. This type of identity theft comes from a stolen password. The motives vary. A seemingly innocuous account takeover (like email) might be useful to a thief hoping to find something of value like a credit card number, common password, or social security number.
- Social Security Number Identity Theft – when combined with other easier-to-find information, the social security number can be used to open new credit cards, claim your benefits, or otherwise run up balances in your name. This is one good reason to monitor your credit report regularly. Increasingly common and overlapping is Tax Identity Theft,where the criminal uses your social security number to claim your tax refund before you can, via direct deposit. This is the time of year it happens.
- Online Transaction or Credit Card Identity Theft – someone makes virtual purchases (almost always untrackable) with your credit card. EMV credit card chips are decade-old technology that criminals have long-since bypassed. Online transactions experienced rapid growth during the pandemic. It’s been a rapid growth time for this type of crime as well. Check your monthly statements.
- Child Identity Theft – a minor’s personal identification information is used to take out loans and credit cards. This crime is often perpetrated by a relative, though recent years have seen increased cases from breaches of school data systems. Stealing a child’s identity is attractive to criminals because the balances may go unnoticed for many years. It’s more common than you’d think – over one million cases annually in the US.
- Mortgage & Home Title Fraud – starts with the theft of a social security number and runs concurrent with crimes like wire fraud, forgery, and probably more. Significant dollar amounts and massively impactful to victims; these crimes threaten ownership and occupancy of the most valuable thing most Americans will ever have: their home.
In 2020, the nation’s longest running study of identity theft stated that troubling trends should serve as a “wake-up call” to the financial institutions and government regulatory agencies that control our transactions and data. While the powers-that-be work to improve their methods, it is important for individuals to remain vigilant as consumers.
If you have been the victim of identity theft or fraud, get help from The Law Offices of Jeffrey Lohman. We will help you reclaim your lost funds, restore your credit, and prevent future incidents. Contact us for assistance today.