Identity Theft Protection

Debt Options Analysis

By Renauld Smith

Industry Veteran & Executive Director of IAPDA

What is identity theft

Identity theft is defined as the fraudulent acquisition and use of a person's private identifying information, usually for financial gain. The term applies anytime someone steals your personal information, such as your Social Security number, and uses it to create a new account, make a purchase or commit other fraud.

Identity Theft Past and Present

In the past identity theft was limited to an actual physical crime. Commonly known as ‘Dumpster Diving’, thieves would steal bank statements, credit card statements, social security cards, credit cards, utility bills and any other documents with your personal information. Phone scams were used as well attempting to obtain a date of birth or social security number.

The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that as many as 10 million Americans a year are affected by identity theft as it’s easier to perform with less risk of getting caught. Identity theft is much more common now as the use of the internet and other modern technology is widespread. When consumers are online paying bills, checking account balances, shopping and active on social media sites, personal information is always at risk.

Online Identity Theft

Fraudsters are interested in obtaining personally identifiable information (PII). The most common examples are:

  • Full Name
  • Social Security Number
  • Telephone Number
  • Driver’s License Number
  • Home Address
  • Birthdate

There are many ways to become a victim of online identity theft. Below are the most common online strategies thieves use to obtain your personally identifiable information.


Malware is a term that describes any malicious program or code that is specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. Although malware generally cannot damage the physical hardware of systems or network equipment it can steal, or delete your data, and spy on your computer activity without your knowledge or permission.

Using malware criminals can track your internet usage to steal your PII, your login credentials and even take control of your device.

Phishing Emails

Most of us have received emails that seem to be from a familiar source (Amazon, PayPal, Bank of America) asking us to click a link and provide personal information to access an account that has been flagged for fraud to change a password or some other similar request.

After clicking the link that was assumed to be credible and secure, the information provided such as your social security number, credit card, banking information or your current password, is now in the hands of a criminal. At times the scammer may be able to remotely control your computer or device escalating the situation to a higher level.

If you’re fortunate to realize that you’ve opened a phishing link, immediately disconnect your internet connection. The scammers won’t be able to obtain remote access to your computer or device and the malware will be stopped in its tracks.

Social Media

Social media has become a resource for scammers looking to steal your identity. Active social media account holders on Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram are the most likely victims, with a 46% higher risk of being affected by identity fraud. Too many social media users do not consider all the consequences of sharing information on the internet, leaving them vulnerable.

Most social networking sites offer users the ability to fill in all types of personal data – birthdays, emails, phone numbers and where they live. While this information seems inconsequential, in the hands of an identity thief it can prove very dangerous. Even information that seems trivial, like your favorite color or where you went to high school, are common security questions for financial accounts.

These are a few tips to safeguard your personal information on social media:

  • Create a strong unique password. When scammers crack one of your passwords, they can easily get into other accounts including financial accounts if you are using the same password.
  • Don’t be too friendly. Only accept invitations to “connect” from people you know or that have a legitimate reason to contact you.
  • Post with caution. What you post online is permanent, even after a social media account is deleted. So be cautious about what you share, especially information or pictures/videos of your kids.
  • Don’t over-share. Identity thieves can learn a lot about you, like your pet’s name and more, by simply viewing your social media profiles. Thieves can then use that information to hack into your financial accounts
  • Click with caution. Be wary of links that come across your timelines in social media; they could be part of a phishing attack that redirects you to a fraudulent website.

How to Report Identity Theft Online

If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, it’s imperative that you report it immediately in order to reduce its impact on your financial life. The first thing you need to do is go to, which is run by the Federal Trade Commission. You can also report the incident by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). Filing an online report is preferred as you can print the document to share with your local authorities and lenders including your local police department.

Through, you can also create an account that gives you access to an identity recovery plan based on your situation. Other helpful resources available in the site include sample letters you can send to credit bureaus and lenders asking to get inaccurate information removed from your credit report.

After reporting your incident with the FTC:

Your first step should be to call the fraud department of the companies where the fraud took place, tell them your situation and ask them to freeze your account. The passwords and pin numbers for those accounts should be changed.

File a fraud alert and get your credit reports. Contact and file a fraud alert with the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Transunion and Equifax. These fraud alerts last one year and prompt financial institutions to verify your identity before issuing new credit.

Request a credit freeze. Placing a security freeze on your credit report prevents new accounts from being created under your name. All three major credit bureaus allow you to open an account on their websites where you can freeze and unfreeze your credit, among other things. If you want to apply for credit, you can temporarily lift a freeze.

IAPDA can provide you with a certified, licensed professional that specializes in Credit Repair solutions. Get the professional help you need. Click the "Free Consultation" button for a free consultation.

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