The Department of Justice (DOJ) describes identity theft and fraud as “all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
Here are the most common ways the DOJ says identity theft happens:
In public places, for example, criminals may engage in “shoulder surfing”– watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or credit card number – or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit card number over the telephone.
If you receive applications for “pre-approved” credit cards in the mail, but discard them without tearing up the enclosed materials, criminals may retrieve them and try to activate the cards for their use without your knowledge. Also, if your mail is delivered to a place where others have ready access to it, criminals may simply intercept and redirect your mail to another location.
Many people respond to “spam”– unsolicited e-mail – that promises them some benefit but requests identifying data, without realizing that in many cases, the requester has no intention of keeping his promise. In some cases, criminals reportedly have used computer technology to steal large amounts of personal data.
Using fake IDs, criminals can do the following that may affect you:
File false applications for loans and credit cards,
Make fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts,
Make fraudulent use of telephone calling cards or online accounts, or
Obtain other goods or privileges which the criminal might be denied if he were to use his real name
If you feel you are a victim of identification theft, you should call the companies where you know the fraud occurred, place a fraud alert and obtain your credit reports, report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, or you may choose to file a report with your local police department.
The DOJ says identify theft carries a maximum term of 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense. In some cases, it can carry 30 years’ imprisonment.
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