People typically get their identities stolen because they give their information away. Dishonest people are sometimes referred to as "scammers." You can avoid identity theft scams by recognizing the most common forms of scammers:
A common type of identity theft scamming happens through email. This is called phishing. An online scammer will send you an e-mail pretending to be a real organization. They will try many ways to get you to provide your personal information. They might threaten you and say that you won't be able to access your account if you don't confirm your bank account number. Other scam e-mails offer money if you provide your account information. Some will ask you to reconfirm your payment details for an order you may (or may not have) placed.
Be very careful with these e-mails. Scammers are smart and will often use the exact logos of well-known companies. Never click through a link on any e-mail unless you know and trust the sender. You can learn how to spot suspicious emails and attachments with Security Planner, a tool to help you stay safe online.
Common examples of phishing:
IRS refund: Always remember that the only way that the IRS will contact you, is by a letter sent to your home address. Scammers might pretend to be the IRS. They’ll send an e-mail telling you that the IRS has a refund for you and that you have to provide your bank account information to retrieve it. Ignore it.
Money wiring scam: You may receive an e-mail, letter, or check telling you that you've won a lottery - even if you didn't buy a ticket. They’ll ask for your bank account information to deposit the money. Or they’ll ask for your payment info to pay the taxes on the prize. This is a scam, and by providing information or depositing the check, you are giving access to sensitive financial information. You should never wire money to someone you don’t know.
Other types of scams:
Calls to "confirm" your personal information: Remember, your bank will never call and ask you for your full account numbers. Always be suspicious of anyone calling to ask you to confirm your PIN number or the three- or four-digit security code on the front or back of your credit card, unless it's a trusted source.
Fake jury duty: An identity theft scammer might tell you that you missed your jury duty and needed to provide your personal information to reschedule. Because you think it is the court calling, you may be more likely to confirm your information and provide additional information. Always ask for a call-back number.
Job promises: Sometimes, scammers will post fake job ads on job listings on websites, such as Craigslist, Monster, or Indeed. These scammers could also send you a “guaranteed” job offer through email. Often, the language of these job ads promises to make you rich, while working at home. They’ll ask you to pay to get the job, for more job listings, for supplies to start your business at home, or for certification to get the job. It can even be a government job that doesn’t exist. Always be wary if you see these types of job listings.
Scams against immigrants: People who have just immigrated to the United States might be led to websites that look like official government websites. Government websites should always end with .gov. Scammers will often try to charge you for government forms. Never pay for government forms – they are always free. People called “notaries” will promise immigrants legal help but cannot actually give legal advice. In fact, using them can hurt your chances of obtaining a green card. Never give notaries or any scammers your original documentation. Always keep original documents close to you.
Medical identity theft: This is a rising threat. If your identity is stolen, medical providers might bill you for services you don’t use. Your health plan might reject a medical claim because an identity thief has maxed out your benefits limit. Or, a health plan might not cover you because your records show a condition that you don’t have. Be careful about sharing your medical history. When you go to the doctor, make sure that your medical records are secure. Ask your insurance company to give you a new card that doesn't have your Social Security number on it. Don't provide your Social Security number unless there is a good reason to do so.
Child identity theft. Another growing area of identity theft is the stealing of a child's Social Security number, name, and other identifying information. Often, it is a relative or a close friend of the child's parents who steal the information to set up new credit or bank accounts. You may not know there is a problem until you try to get your child a driver's license, open up a checking account for him or her, or apply for a student loan. You can pull a child's credit history once he or she turns 13, and you should do that annually once your kids are teenagers.
Updated: May 2018