Identity Theft Is Getting More Sophisticated: How to Protect Yourself

Identity Theft"Identity Thief," the new movie with "Arrested Development"'s Jason Bateman and "Bridesmaids"' Melissa McCarthy, follows a victim's attempt to bring to justice the woman who steals his identity. Hilarity ensues -- and the only price is the cost of the ticket and two hours of your time.

But in the real world, identity theft is far more complicated and far less funny. In the past five years, according to author and identity theft expert Steve Weisman, 27.3 million Americans were victims of identity theft: 52% of them learned of the fraud through self-monitoring credit reports; 26% were alerted by their banks; and 8% found that they were breached when they were turned down for credit.

Savvy identity thieves are engaging in more sophisticated crimes than simply stealing money or opening new credit cards in other people's names: They have used stolen identities to gain access to medical care or immigration status, or even to evade arrests. Victims may not know they've been targeted until their medical records are compromised (resulting in inaccurate care) or they get arrested for crimes they didn't commit.

Identity thieves can be family members, career criminals, or people who have never even had a parking ticket. Weisman, an identity theft victim who went on to write "50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age," says that although we may take precautions, we're never as safe as we think we are. Keeping your identity secure, Weisman says, requires being able to outwit the fraudsters.

Simple Steps to Outwit the Criminals

When it comes to password-protecting your information, sometimes all it takes is a few clicks to crack your personal code. "Most people would be surprised at how much personal information is available online," Weisman says, and how easy it is to hack into email or Facebook accounts.

Weisman points out that when Sarah Palin's email was hacked in 2008, it was done so by using publicly available information like her high school and birth date. "Pets' names, children's names, college mascots... answers to the most common security questions are usually very easy to find," he says.

For an extra layer of protection to online accounts, Weisman recommends adding a twist to passwords and security questions. "Keep it simple. Don't answer the security questions with real information. If they ask your favorite sports team, write 'blue,' or something that you'll know but no one else would guess."

Weisman offers the following advice for keeping your identity protected:
  • Don't store credit card information online for one-click shopping.
  • Don't ever use a social media account like Facebook to log in to other sites.
  • Don't open links from friends without knowing exactly what the links are, as some links hide keystroke software.
  • Don't access online banking accounts or other personal information on open networks like coffee shop or airport WiFi.
  • Regularly scrutinize your credit card and banking account statements for any stray charges -- even those as small a dollar. A little charge may be a test to see if you notice before larger charges are made.
  • Put a freeze on your credit report; it only takes 24 hours to remove if necessary.
  • Use passcodes on smartphones and personal devices.
Protect Yourself From Companies You Do Business With

Unfortunately, keeping your personal Fort Knox locked down isn't enough. Be aware that the companies you do business with may not properly screen or train their employees. "All it takes is one person to improperly dispose of records with credit card or social security information on [them], or one company to overlook a background check, and your information is compromised."

Weisman says to avoid giving out Social Security numbers simply because you're asked, like in a doctor's office. "Many doctors' offices will ask for your Social, but they don't really need it. Leave the line blank or say you don't have it on you."

Within the home, store personal information, mail, bank account statements, and other information out of common areas. In Washington, D.C., a female police officer went to take a report at the apartment of an Alzheimer's patient who had been the victim of fraud. The officer was later arrested for stealing the woman's checkbook and cashing several checks to herself.

Resources for Identity Theft Victims

People who suspect they've been a victim of identity theft should immediately contact all of their banking institutions and obtain a free copy of their credit report. If identity theft has occurred, file a complaint with the FTC by calling 877-ID-THEFT or The information will be shared nationwide with law enforcement officials.

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It's actually easy to get someones SS#. Town Hall has it listed under Land Records. Owners name, SS, DOB, etc. I was purchasing land from my Bro in Law and wanted to get the exact information on the plat. Went to Town Hall and they handed me the book with everyones info. This was in Ocala Fla. Not bumpluck Dakota.

February 04 2013 at 10:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had someone hack into my visa account a few years ago after ordering something online.Since then,if I want to order anything online,I'll buy and use gift cards so I don't have to give out any account info.

November 11 2012 at 6:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I have a friend who will not shred any important type of paper. All of his bank statements and things like that are just put into the recycle bin and put out to the road every other week. His wife had a paper shredder but he complained that it used too much electricity...... so he gave it away! I still cannot figure that one out. I can't wait to make a copy of this article and send it to him with many highlites! I shred all of my papers with personal information on them, even papers with my name and address, especially credit card applications! I have another paper shredder that I offered to another friend and she also refuses to use one. She said that she just tears these papers up, but I have watched her do this and think to myself how easy it would be to put these back together. I did tell her that she should at least get a black marker and rub out the info on them, but she won't do that either. I do not take any chances!

November 11 2012 at 9:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

My son recently had his Debit card hacked, but fortunately the bank called him on Sunday morning when there was a charge from Great Britian! They immediately put a stop on the card before contacting my son to check. They had also used the number to purchase a couple small items first, to try it out. He ended up losing about $30, which he cannot even afford that.

I had my Visa card hacked one time, but I am thinking it was a miss print somehow. Each month I was getting a $9 charge from a music store in New Jersey. This went on for several months and each time I called the Visa company, they restored the $9 but it was becomming a pain so I just cancelled that card and ordered a new number. The Visa company said that they don't do anything for that small of an amount other than advise you to get a new card. My card is through my credit union and one time I used the card to buy a new TV and by the time I got home the credit union was calling me to see if I had made a large purchase at the store. So they watch also. Oh and my son's debit card is also through a credit union. I think they watch better than a regular bank.

November 11 2012 at 8:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Point is ,...people STOP giving out info that is NOT needed !!
Like making simple purchases from retailers who ask for your phone # ,...BULLSHIT ,..they DONT need any info from you to complete a purchase !! Wake up !!
Whats the 1st question asked ,....." Do you have a receipt ? "
There you go ,..if you purchase anything worth any value , get a receipt ,...simple,... KEEP IT , safe place, have a problem ,..use it for return / exchange / whatever,....DONT let them bullshit you in to giving ANY personal info ,..even your phone # !!!
Simple as that !!!
Have a nice day.

November 11 2012 at 7:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually, doctors' offices do need your social security number-they can't bill your insurance company without it on the form

November 11 2012 at 5:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gailneuman's comment


November 11 2012 at 7:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to A.G. SESKIS's comment

Untrue. Many insurances require the insured's SSN to process a claim, despite having the insurance ID number. As a physician who has encountered the situation numerous times, I can attest to this as fact. I'm with you - I think that it shouldn't be required in this day and age, but we must get the info from the patient if they want their insurance company to pay for their services. When they complain to us about it, our policy is to tell the patient to contact their insurance company and complain, as its their policy, not ours. If they still refuse to give the SSN, then they pay out of pocket for all services without being reimbursed by their carrier.

November 12 2012 at 9:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

Bottom line is quite handing out your info so readily. A friend of mine in IT security said "Average person uses his Kids name b,birthdate,pets name as password" So any have hearted criminal looking for passwords and other info needs to access your facebook page and he has all he needs to get your identity." We have become a "look at me" society,is it any wonder we make ourselves targets.

November 10 2012 at 8:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


November 10 2012 at 12:45 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Just like there are crooks out there stealing your identity there are also crooks out there promising to protect you from stealing.
LifeLock, Inc. has agreed to pay $11 million to the Federal Trade Commission and $1 million to a group of 35 state attorneys general to settle charges that the company used false claims to promote its identity theft protection services, which it widely advertised by displaying the CEO’s Social Security number on the side of a truck.

In one of the largest FTC-state coordinated settlements on record, LifeLock and its principals will be barred from making deceptive claims and required to take more stringent measures to safeguard the personal information they collect from customers.

“While LifeLock promised consumers complete protection against all types of identity theft, in truth, the protection it actually provided left enough holes that you could drive a truck through it,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

Then we have politicians who just plan steal and then write laws protecting themselves..

November 10 2012 at 12:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply