Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
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The Internet has provided us with a lot of conveniences. Unfortunately, it has also increased our vulnerability to identity theft. Identity theft robs victims of time, money, and peace of mind. Most identity thieves use the Internet to steal personal information. But, an identity thief can also obtain personal data from trash cans and other unsecured locations. This personal information allows thieves to access bank accounts, medical records, personal emails, and many other kinds of private data. FindLaw's Identity Theft section provides information about preventing and detecting identity theft. You can also find articles on what to do if your identity is stolen and tips to help protect your identity.
Ways a Thief Can Steal and Use Your Identity
Identity theft is the crime in which a thief uses a person's personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. Some examples of personal information that thieves can use are social security numbers, credit card information, or driver's license numbers. As more large institutions compile huge electronic databases of personal information, it becomes easier for hackers to infiltrate and steal people's personal information. But, identities continue to be stolen in less tech-savvy ways as well. Thieves can learn your personal information by stealing your wallet, dumpster diving for discarded documents, stealing mail from your mailbox, or simply looking over your shoulder at an ATM machine.
Once a thief has your personal information, he or she can commit fraud in a variety of ways. Depending on the personal information they are able to obtain, thieves can open a new credit card or charge items to your credit card, rent a house or get a job, open a bank account in your name, or open an account for utilities services. Identity thieves can also receive government benefits or file false tax returns using your information. Finally, these thieves can even provide your information to the police when they commit another crime.
Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
While it's unlikely that you'll be able to protect yourself one hundred percent from identity theft, there are steps you can take to lessen the likelihood of your identity being stolen. Paper records, such as social security cards, passports, bills, bank statements, and tax returns, should be kept somewhere safe. When disposing of any documents with personal information, it's important to shred them before throwing them away. You should always be sure to try and get your mail as soon as possible after the mail person delivers it. Finally, it's good practice to put out any outgoing mail in the morning, instead of the night before.
There are also steps you can take for electronic documents and services. Try to make your passwords as difficult as possible for a human or machine to guess. This can be done by using a combination of numbers, upper and lower case letters, and even symbols. You also shouldn't use the same password for all of your accounts. Even though remembering all of these passwords will likely be difficult, you shouldn't store it on your computer or write them down. If you must write the passwords down, you should keep the written down passwords in a safe. Finally, regularly monitoring your accounts and credit information is the best way to proactively protect your identity.
How Can an Identity Theft Attorney Help?
Identity theft can cause significant damage to a person's credit history or reputation. Fortunately, there are several resources that can help a person recover from identity theft and prevent it in the future. One resource that can help is an attorney who has experience in identity theft. These attorneys understand the rights and remedies available to identity theft victims under state and federal laws.
Recovering your identity and clearing your name after you have been the victim of identity theft can be challenging and time consuming. Often this task includes filing reports with the police and the Federal Trade Commission, and contacting credit bureaus, financial institutions, and creditors or debt collection agencies. An identity theft attorney will have experience communicating with these entities. Having an attorney will also prevent these entities, especially debt collection agencies, from contacting you directly.
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