Protect Yourself From IDENTITY CRIMES

Most Common Schemes


Identity theft begins when someone takes your personally identifiable information such as your name, Social Security Number, date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, and your address to use it, without your knowledge or permission, for their personal financial gain.

There are many different types of schemes identity criminals use. This can range from non-technological to technological schemes. The following is a listing of just some of the most common methods identity criminals have been known to use to obtain your personal identifiable information. For each scheme, we provide recommendations on the methods you can use to thwart criminals from obtaining and using your information.


Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving occurs when someone goes through someone else’s garbage to obtain personal identifiable information off items found in the trash, such as credit card bills, utility bills, medical insurance, and bank statements.

To protect yourself, you should shred everything before disposing of it with a cross-cut paper shredder. Another method to use is to go paperless by receiving statements and making your payments online. Keep track of your credit report and report any discrepancies to your credit card company and credit bureaus. If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, see the section What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen.

Mail Theft

Mail theft occurs when someone targets your mailbox and removes mail that has pertinent information on it. As in dumpster diving, a thief can take your credit card bills, bank statements; anything that can be used to steal your identity. At times, identity theft criminals have been known to re-route your mail without your knowledge or permission by submitting a change of address to the post office.

To protect yourself, you should monitor your mail. If you suspect that someone has been taking mail out of your mailbox, contact the post office immediately. Other steps can be taken to protect yourself. For instance, do not leave your mail in the box for extended periods. Use a locking mailbox if possible, or rent a box at the post office.

Set up to receive your bills and make payments online. To read other recommendations see the section entitled Reduce Your Exposure to Mail Theft found on the Preventing Identity Theft web page.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is the practice of someone either in person, over the telephone, or computer, uses means to deceive someone else into divulging sensitive information. Usually, social engineers know some information that lead the victim to believe they are legitimate and give the information asked. Social engineering is commonly known as a “con game” and is perpetrated by “con-men.” See also Pretexting.

To prevent this, stay diligent. Do not give out any personal information to anyone you do not know. If in doubt, do not be afraid to obtain the person’s contact number; let him/her know that you will call him/her back. Verify the person’s identification. Also verify with others or verify with the company the person is representing that such information is really needed.

Shoulder Surfing

This attack may occur anytime you use a password or a device that stores PIN numbers, such as at an ATM. The identity thief attempts to get close enough to you so that when you enter password information, such as a PIN number, the thief records the password. Although this can typically occurs in a public setting, where the victim is and their credentials are in plain sight, it may also occur through a video camera setup by the criminal.

To prevent this from happening, you should be aware of your surroundings when you are accessing any accounts that require you to enter a password or PIN in public. If someone stands too close to you, do not be afraid to ask the person to move back. If he/she is not willing to do so, let the person go first. Remember, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you do not feel safe, try using another machine.

Another method you can use is to try to use cash for your transactions, or use a pre-paid credit card. Do not write down your passwords where someone can find them, such as your wallet or purse. Also, take advantage of credit reports, which will help you analyze whether anyone has stolen your identity to access your bank accounts.

Stealing Personal Items

Identity thieves can also obtain your personal information by stealing your wallet or purse. When this occurs, we recommend that you immediately contact credit card companies, bank, and credit bureaus to let them know of your situation.

To secure wallets or purses, we recommend women to make sure their purses are closed and secure at all times. Carry the purse close your body, with the bag in front so you can keep it within your sight. We also recommend men button up the back pocket where their wallet is located, if it has a button. If not, place the wallet in front pocket and stay vigilant and aware of your surroundings.

We also recommend that you limit the amount of personal information you carry with you. Do not carry your Social Security Number card and limit the number of credit cards you carry. Remove old deposit slips, blank checks, and any information that carries your login and password information. To read other recommendations see the section Protect Your Other Personal Information found on the Preventing Identity Theft web page.


Credit/Debit Card Theft

Credit card fraud is an element of identity fraud. It can have far reaching effects, since the information on the card can be used to perpetrate other types of identity theft crimes. From using the signature on the back of a card that is stolen, to loaning a credit card to a friend or family member can cause someone to obtain what they need to open other credit card accounts or bank accounts in the victim’s name.

Steps you can take to protect this information include writing CID on the back of your signature panel instead of your signature on the back of your card. CID stands for “SEE ID” and requires merchants to request to see other forms of identification to verify the user of the card.

Another step you can take is to keep your card in plain sight when making payments. For instance, there are places such as restaurants where the waiter takes the credit or debit card away from you to make the payment. However, there have been instances when identity criminals have been known to take the victims card away to swipe it through the card reader, not only to make the legitimate payment but also to make a copy of the information on your card (see “Skimming” below).

It is recommended that you question if the merchant is using multiple swipes to approve a charge. This may indicate the card reader is electronically copying the information of the magnetic strip for use later.

Do not use a credit card on an unverified site. Make sure that a lock appears in the right hand corner of the web status bar. If none is there, do not purchase anything on the website. It is not recommended to give out your credit card (or any personal information) over your cell phone. You never know who is listening to your conversation. Consider the use of a pre-paid credit card for purchases. The only liability will be the amount on the card, not your identity.

Read More Skimming

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