Following the recent public disclosure that hackers believed to be operating on behalf of a foreign government breached the networks of the U.S. government and multiple US companies, it is safe to assume that online frauds and scams like identity theft will follow.
Identity theft, or identity fraud, is a crime that can have substantial financial and emotional consequences. Take precautions with personal information. If you become a victim, act immediately to minimize the damage.
Is identity theft just a problem for people who submit information online?
You can be a victim of identity theft even if you never use a computer. Malicious people may be able to obtain personal information (such as credit card numbers, phone numbers, account numbers, and addresses) by stealing your wallet, overhearing a phone conversation, rummaging through your trash (a practice known as dumpster diving), or picking up a receipt at a restaurant that has your account number on it.
If a thief has enough information, he or she may be able to impersonate you to purchase items, open new accounts, or apply for loans.
The internet has made it easier for thieves to obtain personal and financial data. Most companies and other institutions store information about their clients in databases; if a thief can access that database, he or she can obtain information about many people at once rather than focus on one person at a time.
The internet has also made it easier for thieves to sell or trade the information, making it more difficult for law enforcement to identify and apprehend the criminals.