Today's criminals are smart and calculating individuals who know how to take advantage of someone with a trusting and compassionate mind. Most criminals also know that their potential victim is probably someone who endorses the belief that becoming the victim of any crime is something that only happens to other people. Many people do not realize how easily criminals can obtain our personal data without having to break into our homes. In public places, criminals may engage in what is called "shoulder surfing"... watching you from a nearby location as you dial 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.
In typical neighborhoods across the U.S., some criminals engage in "dumpster diving" which involves going through your garbage cans, dumpsters or trash bins to obtain copies of your checks, bank statements, credit card statements or ATM receipts. These types of activities are in many cases not illegal and are sometimes the same techniques that are used by investigators and police to solve more serious crimes. The types of records that criminals are getting this way make it easier for them to get control over accounts in your name and assume your identity.
The term "Ghosting" refers to an older form of identity theft in which someone steals the identity of a specific dead person (the "ghost") who is not widely known to be deceased. Sometimes the identity thief even assumes the role that the dead person had within the community. Usually, the person who steals this identity (the "ghoster") is about the same age that the ghost would have been if still alive, so that any documents with the birthdate of the ghost will not be obviously incorrect when used by the thief.
Keeping the identity of a child safe is most likely the last thing on the mind of a parent. Children are usual targets of "child identity theft" because they have no credit. By the time the crime is detected, the ID thief has already manipulated the child's social security number to apply for loans, open credit card accounts, apply for utility services or even rent a place to live, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
In some cases it's a parent with poor credit who steals the child's identity. Many children have become victims of identity theft, and the thief is their own mother, father or older sibling. The child will finally realize in later years that the person who used his/her information to open up a credit card account was a family member or close relative. The young adult will now have a very hard time making it on their own when it comes to conducting basic financial and credit transactions.
Where it begins - It starts with an innocent plan to repay back the amount stolen as soon as possible. Parents or relatives can easily perform identity theft because they have easy access to their child's personal information needed to open up a financial account. Using a child's social security number is an easy way to open the account. Children have clean records making it easy for the parent to get better financial terms.
Do Credit Agencies Verify an Applicant's Age? - Most credit checks don't involve verification of the applicant's age. That means a person can use another's social security number and apply for various loans or cards.
The Unfortunate End - During the span of time that the loan was forgotten, it has been collecting interest and late fees. When the child reaches adulthood and wants to conduct basic and necessary transactions such as taking out a loan, opening up a credit card account, leasing a car, renting an apartment or even paying for school, they now see a long and blemished credit history. Some young adults end up filing bankruptcy on a debt that they had no knowledge of, and what's worse, it becomes a disturbing and emotional problem for everyone involved. These young adults don't know how to react and taking action means that they may even need to take their own loved one's to court. This form of identity theft will result in feelings of betrayal and may end up dividing family members.
Another deceptive practice to watch out for is a practice known as "skimming." Identity thieves use computers to read and store the information encoded on the magnetic strip of an ATM or credit card by extracting the information on it when that card is inserted through either a specialized card reader or a legitimate payment mechanism. Once stored, that information can be re-encoded onto any other card with a magnetic strip, instantly transforming a blank card into a machine-readable ATM or credit card identical to that of the victim's card.
Thieves Can be Relentless
A well-known case study of identity theft involves a convicted felon who was able to obtain more than $100,000 of credit, a federal home loan, motorcycles and handguns,.. and he did it all in the victim's name. How he obtained the victim's personal data was not disclosed, however, he was relentless in his pursuit to not only destroy his victim's credit but to humiliate him too. After all the damage that he caused, he continued to make life miserable for his victim by calling him on the phone to taunt him -- claiming that he could continue to pose as the victim for as long as he wanted because identity theft was not a federal crime at that time. Finally, the criminal filed for bankruptcy in the victim's name. While the victim and his wife spent more than four years and more than $15,000 of their own money to restore their credit and reputation, the criminal served a short sentence for making a false statement to obtain a firearm, but made no restitution to his victim for any of the harm he had caused.
This case, and others like it, prompted Congress in 1998 to create a new federal offense of identity theft. Unfortunately, the Internet Revolution, which allows 10,000 new Web pages to form each week, has continued to prove elusive when evening the playing field between security and deception.