How a Thief Steals Your Identity

Three keys to stealing your identity are your:

  • Full name
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth

If financial institutions fail to check, an identity thief can get by with even less identifying information. A thief can impersonate you in one or both of the following ways:

  • Account takeover
    A thief acquires your existing credit account information and makes purchases, using either the actual credit card or simply the account number and expiration date.
  • Application fraud or "true name fraud"
    A thief uses your Social Security number and other identifying information to open new accounts in your name, using your credit rating to borrow money and make purchases.

Here are a few of the specific ways an identity thief can get information about you:

Stealing company data
Detailed personal information stored in inadequately secured paper files and electronic databases. Insufficiently restricted sharing of this information with other companies.
Company's use of your Social Security number as your account number.

Pretexting (spoofing)
Someone (e.g., telemarketer, sales clerk) obtains your personal information and then pretends to be you.

Using crimeware
Crooks employ various software such as phishing programs, Trojan horses and spyware to steal your personal information directly from your computer or convince you to enter it at their Web sites, which mimic authentic ones. Some crimeware can direct you to a fradulent Web site even if you type the address of the real one in your browser. Neither antivirus nor antispyware programs may be able to detect the latest versions of crimeware. Included in crimeware are kits that would-be thieves can buy for the purpose of setting up and managing scams such as phishing.

Dumpster diving
A thief will rummage through your trash to get your personal or business information.

Stealing your mail
Your unsecured mail box is a treasure trove of information about you and your business transactions. Also, an identity thief can have your accounts forwarded to another address.

A thief can use a scanner to swipe your credit card information and use it later to impersonate you, perhaps even with a fake credit card. Employers need to screen employees or applicants, train, monitor their performance and encourage stronger laws and regulations on how scanners are used. If possible, be present when your credit card is swiped. Be sure it is swiped only once.

Raiding your old computer
When you discard a computer or any electronic storage device, use special software to completely erase all information so that a thief can't retrieve it. Simply deleting files does not physically erase the data from hard drives.
NOTE: All NC State computer equipment that is to be surplused must have the hard drive completely erased or removed and destroyed and must have verification paperwork completed. Removal software is available to students, faculty and staff. See Data Removal Information Home Page for instructions.

Go to Identity Theft main page.

Go to Safe Computing at NC State.