What is identity theft and how does it affect me?

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What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a federal crime. It occurs when someone uses your personal information without your knowledge or permission for financial, or other gain. Typical identity theft involves a thief stealing your personal information to pose as you in some way. A newer and growing variety is called synthetic identity theft. In synthetic identity theft, your personal information is combined with fake data to create a brand new, bogus identity. A thief may combine your Social Security number with a different name or other fake credentials. Synthetic identity theft can be harder to detect, which can lead to more damage.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that identity theft victimized nearly 17 million people in 2012 alone, making it one of the fastest growing crime in America. It has topped the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's ranking of consumer complaints. Prime targets include children, college students, military members, veterans, and seniors. While no one is completely safe from identity theft, there are some steps you can take to lower your risk.

How Can Identity Theft Affect Me?

Identity theft can damage your finances, credit rating, and reputation, all while complicating many areas of your life. Identity thieves may:

  • Drain your bank account
  • Make purchases with your credit cards
  • Open new accounts (bank, cell phone, utility, credit card, etc.) in your name
  • Get identity and government documents issued with your name and their photo
  • Receive medical care under your insurance
  • Take out loans in your name
  • Create a false criminal record by using your identity information when investigated or arrested by police

    Another growing issue is tax-related identity theft. Using your Social Security number, an identity thief may:

  • File a false tax return and collect a refund
  • Get a job and have earning reported as your income