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What is Identity Theft and How to Recover from It

Authored by:
Support.com Tech Pro Team
This Guided Path® was written and reviewed by Support.com’s Tech Pro team. With decades of experience, our Tech Pros are passionate about making technology work for you. We love feedback! Let us know what you think about this Guided Path by rating it at the end.
An image of a hacker stealing identity information. PNG

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is the act of stealing personal identity details. These details mark you as yourself. They tie you to your bank accounts, your country's tax service, and other online accounts. Identity details are how the world knows who you are and where you are.

What's an identity detail?

  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Bank account
  • Online account credentials
  • Driver's license
  • Home address
  • Phone number
  • Debit or credit card
  • Child's personal information

Why Should I Worry?

After stealing enough of these details, they can drain your entire bank account or use your credit cards. They could even try to get medical treatment using your health insurance. An identity thief can file taxes in your name and steal your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

If the thief gets a hold of a child's information they can use it to do all this and more.

What's worse is if the thief's not in it for the money. People who get a hold of this information normally only care about the money they can steal from you. Other people want to make your life more difficult and destroy your reputation.

If someone wants to wreck your reputation they could dox you. Doxxing is the act of stealing and revealing personal details and then putting them out there for people to do whatever damage they want. This may result in unpleasant and frequent phone calls. You may get signed up for junk mail. One of the few funny results in this is receiving unwanted pizza deliveries. On the other hand, you could get swatted.

Swatting follows doxxing. Someone has your information. They're either a prankster or they just plain don't like you. The next thing they do is call the cops. They use your information, especially your address, and claim something horrible is happening in your home. The next thing you know a SWAT team is breaking down your door, pointing guns at your family, and screaming for you to get on the floor. It's terrifying to say the least. People who survive these encounters have to pay for damages and often suffer from PTSD. Some people don't survive at all.

How to Avoid Identity Theft

The first step in keeping safe from identity theft is to learn how. Many already take small steps like shredding documents with personal information instead of just throwing them away. Those who gamble online take extra precautions to protect their identity. Spotting phishing attacks in our email inbox is another way to help. There's a whole range of tips that have been carefully put together in the following guides:

Secure Your Online Accounts with Two-Factor Authentication
What is Two-Step Verification? (2FA, TFA, 2SV, MFA)

Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security used to prove that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. It's an unfortunate threat in our time. Luckily, there are ways you can protect yourself and lessen that threat.

Am I a Victim of Identity Theft?

There are multiple ways to know if you've been a victim of identity theft.

  • Unexplained withdrawals from your bank account.
  • Your bills and other mail stop coming in on time.
  • Your checks are refused.
  • Debt collectors call demanding money you don't owe.
  • Unfamiliar accounts or charges appear on your credit report. Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim. Their records show you’ve reached your benefits limit even though you know you haven't used enough.
  • The IRS notifies you that there was more than one tax return filed in your name
  • The IRS has an employer you don't work for listed as your income.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach.

If you're a victim you may notice all of these or just one. If you do see any of these, assume you've been a victim and take the proper steps immediately.

What Should Victims of Identity Theft Do?

Recovering from identity theft may seem impossible, but there are many resources out there to help.

Immediately after discovering identity theft you should contact the companies involved. You should also go to IdentityTheft.gov to report the theft and get assistance. Contacting your local law enforcement is also a good idea.

If your debit or credit card was stolen immediately contact the institution to cancel the card and request a new one.

If your wallet was stolen, assume everything inside has been compromised and arrange for cancellations and replacements.

Identity theft is a costly and exhausting crime. Cyber criminals are working overtime to bypass any protections you might have on your accounts. In 2019 3.2 million identity theft crimes were reported with a loss of $1.9 billion from victims. Identity theft is big business and business is booming. You need to protect your information and accounts.

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An image of a hacker stealing identity information. PNG

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is the act of stealing personal identity details. These details mark you as yourself. They tie you to your bank accounts, your country's tax service, and other online accounts. Identity details are how the world knows who you are and where you are.

What's an identity detail?

  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Bank account
  • Online account credentials
  • Driver's license
  • Home address
  • Phone number
  • Debit or credit card
  • Child's personal information

Why Should I Worry?

After stealing enough of these details, they can drain your entire bank account or use your credit cards. They could even try to get medical treatment using your health insurance. An identity thief can file taxes in your name and steal your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

If the thief gets a hold of a child's information they can use it to do all this and more.

What's worse is if the thief's not in it for the money. People who get a hold of this information normally only care about the money they can steal from you. Other people want to make your life more difficult and destroy your reputation.

If someone wants to wreck your reputation they could dox you. Doxxing is the act of stealing and revealing personal details and then putting them out there for people to do whatever damage they want. This may result in unpleasant and frequent phone calls. You may get signed up for junk mail. One of the few funny results in this is receiving unwanted pizza deliveries. On the other hand, you could get swatted.

Swatting follows doxxing. Someone has your information. They're either a prankster or they just plain don't like you. The next thing they do is call the cops. They use your information, especially your address, and claim something horrible is happening in your home. The next thing you know a SWAT team is breaking down your door, pointing guns at your family, and screaming for you to get on the floor. It's terrifying to say the least. People who survive these encounters have to pay for damages and often suffer from PTSD. Some people don't survive at all.

How to Avoid Identity Theft

The first step in keeping safe from identity theft is to learn how. Many already take small steps like shredding documents with personal information instead of just throwing them away. Those who gamble online take extra precautions to protect their identity. Spotting phishing attacks in our email inbox is another way to help. There's a whole range of tips that have been carefully put together in the following guides:

Secure Your Online Accounts with Two-Factor Authentication
What is Two-Step Verification? (2FA, TFA, 2SV, MFA)

Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security used to prove that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. It's an unfortunate threat in our time. Luckily, there are ways you can protect yourself and lessen that threat.

Am I a Victim of Identity Theft?

There are multiple ways to know if you've been a victim of identity theft.

  • Unexplained withdrawals from your bank account.
  • Your bills and other mail stop coming in on time.
  • Your checks are refused.
  • Debt collectors call demanding money you don't owe.
  • Unfamiliar accounts or charges appear on your credit report. Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim. Their records show you’ve reached your benefits limit even though you know you haven't used enough.
  • The IRS notifies you that there was more than one tax return filed in your name
  • The IRS has an employer you don't work for listed as your income.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach.

If you're a victim you may notice all of these or just one. If you do see any of these, assume you've been a victim and take the proper steps immediately.

What Should Victims of Identity Theft Do?

Recovering from identity theft may seem impossible, but there are many resources out there to help.

Immediately after discovering identity theft you should contact the companies involved. You should also go to IdentityTheft.gov to report the theft and get assistance. Contacting your local law enforcement is also a good idea.

If your debit or credit card was stolen immediately contact the institution to cancel the card and request a new one.

If your wallet was stolen, assume everything inside has been compromised and arrange for cancellations and replacements.

Identity theft is a costly and exhausting crime. Cyber criminals are working overtime to bypass any protections you might have on your accounts. In 2019 3.2 million identity theft crimes were reported with a loss of $1.9 billion from victims. Identity theft is big business and business is booming. You need to protect your information and accounts.