What is Identity Theft or Identity Fraud?
Identity theft or identity fraud (true name fraud) is the criminal act of taking a victim's identity for the purpose of obtaining credit, credit cards from banks and/or retailers, stealing money from the victim's existing accounts, applying for loans in the victim's name, establishing accounts with utility companies, leasing automobiles and residences, filing bankruptcy, and/or even obtaining employment.
Identity thieves often steal thousands of dollars from unsuspecting victims, in the victim's own name, without the victim knowing about the fraud for months or sometimes years.
Recently, identity thieves have used unsuspecting victim's identities to commit crimes ranging from traffic infractions to felonies.
How Does Identity Theft Occur?
All that is needed is a little information, such as your social security number, birth date, address, phone number, or any other information which can be discovered.
Armed with this identifying information, and possibly a false driver's license with the identity thief's picture in place of yours, the identity thief can apply in person for instant credit, or through the mail by posing as you.
Often, an identity thief will provide their own address, (claiming to have moved) in an effort to prolong the fraud. Negligent credit grantors, in their rush to issue credit, do not verify information or addresses. As such, once the imposter opens the first account, they can use this new account, along with the other identifying information, to bolster their credibility and obtain even more credit in your name.
These criminal actions result in a proliferation of the fraud, and the thief is well on his/her way to getting rich and ruining your credit and good name.
Where Does the Information About You Come From?
Many places- your doctor, accountant, lawyer, dentist, school, place of employment, health insurance carrier, and many others have your identifying information.
If some criminally minded person is employed at one of these places, (or is just visiting) and decides to use or steal this information to assume your identity, you would probably not find out about it until after the damage had been done. Further, if this information is not disposed of with a shredder, a "dumpster-diver" could retrieve the information, and assume your identity without ever having to enter any of the above-mentioned places.
You should also be aware that you do not need to lose your wallet or have anything tangible stolen, in order for someone to steal your identity.
By simply failing to shred your confidential information, utility bills, credit card slips and other documents, it is easy for an identity thief to "dumpster dive" your garbage, and retrieve your most personal identifying information.
In addition, if an identity thief were to obtain your credit report illegally, they would have all the information necessary to become you.
You should also know that much of your identifying information is readily available on the Internet, or even at your local courthouse, where it is accessible by the filing of a public records request.
What Can I Do?
Florida's Identity Theft Resource and Response center is a good place to start. This resource provides exhaustive information regarding how to prevent ID theft, as well as a step-by-step walkthrough for reporting victimization and rebuilding credit.
Florida's Identity Theft Victim Kit provides everything from contact information for the three major credit bureaus, to standard affidavits. The Kit is an invlauable tool for victims of identity theft in Florida, and for victims outside of the state who have had their personal information fraudulently used in the state of Florida.