How Identity Theft Occurs

Here are a just a few examples of how skilled identity thieves obtain access to your personal information:

  • Mail theft – They may steal your mail, including bank and credit card statements, “pre-approved” credit card offers, blank checks, tax information, and personal checks they find in your mailbox.
  • Theft of your personal property – They may steal your wallet or purse. They may also steal personal information they find in your car, home, or place of business.
  • Dumpster diving – They may rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses or public trash containers.
  • Shoulder surfing – They may look over your shoulder as you enter your PIN number at an ATM.
  • Data theft – They may access your personal or work computer, or the computer network of a business or government agency, and then steal your personal information. There are ways this can be prevented by using credit card tokenization, reducing the risk of theft in the process.
  • Phishing – They may send you an e-mail message that appears to be coming from a legitimate business, such as a financial institution. The e-mail will claim that there is a problem with your account and that it will be closed unless you immediately respond by providing them with your personal information.
  • Skimming – Employees at restaurants or retail establishments may “skim” or “swipe” your credit card through a small handheld electronic device known as a “skimmer.” The “skimmer” will record account information from the magnetic strip on the back of your card. Or, identity thieves may attach “overlay” skimming devices to ATMs or connect skimming devices to the internal components of a gasoline pump. Your account information is captured by the device and then either sold or re-encoded onto blank or counterfeit cards, which are then used to withdraw money from your account or to conduct fraudulent transactions.

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