Imagine being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. Even if it’s a small crime which may seem inconsequential to some, it would still be a shocking event with terrible consequences for your future. Now, imagine being arrested for a serious, heinous crime that you had no idea about but were somehow implicated in as the main perpetrator. Many of us would go into a wild panic if this were to happen and not know the first thing to do if that were ever to happen.
What Is Criminal Identity Theft?
Criminal identity theft is, essentially, identity theft with an added element to it. Now, identity theft occurs when a criminal steals your personal information, like your name, address, Social Security number, credit card details, and so on, for their own personal gain. They’d take this information, stolen from you, and use it in order to steal your finances, for example, or use your SSN for their own background checks when applying for employment. With credit cards, an identity thief will be able to make purchases on your name, running up your credit card account, potentially leaving you with serious debt to pay off.
Criminal identity theft, however, works a little differently. Yes, your identity is stolen, much like the kind of identity theft that you might already be familiar with, but it’s more devious than that. If your identity is stolen, and by that we mean your personally identifiable information – like your SSN – it can be used by others to pose as you. Criminal identity theft is when someone else is cited or arrested for a crime that they committed, but they present themselves as another person – in this case, you. Terrifying, right? It goes without saying, then, that you, the victim, end up with a blemished record with criminal charges to your name. In most cases, victims of criminal identity theft don’t even learn that they’re cited or charged for a crime that they didn’t commit until it’s too late.
Am I at Risk of Criminal Identity Theft?
Let’s face it, everyone is at risk of criminal identity theft. In a way, identity thieves won’t really have much in the way of criteria when deciding on the individual that they’d want to implicate in a crime in place of themselves. In fact, the more anonymous you are as an individual, the more likely it is that you’d be a victim of criminal identity theft. While personally identifiable information is available through our SSN, driver’s licenses, and other physical documents and cards that identify us, a criminal identity thief will likely gain that info via your online presence.
How does someone get my personal information online? It’s simpler than you think, really. Have you ever heard of people-search sites? These sites are havens for fraudsters who look to harvest information about others online. People-search sites have access to a database of publicly-accessible data which basically allows you to look someone up and find out all there is to know about them. You’re able to find email addresses linked to them, social media profiles linked to their name, their home addresses, phone numbers, date of birth, title deeds, criminal records, and so on. Where once it took the effort of going to public archives to find information like this about an individual, it’s possible to do that now if you’ve just got access to the web.
Your key personal information could potentially be found on the dark web, too. With data breaches and leaks being so common lately, even the big data brokers have shown how vulnerable they are to this phenomenon. When these breaches happen, individuals like you and me are at risk as our sensitive information gets into the hands of hackers and malicious users on the dark web. This information is sold to others who use it for purposes like, you guessed it, criminal identity theft.
Keep Your Social Security Number Safe
Ensure that you know where your Social Security number, as well as your driver’s license and passport are at all times. If these documents ever get into the wrong hands, you’re a sitting duck for criminal identity theft and identity fraud in general. Don’t tell anyone these numbers unless they have real reasons to know them, and make sure not to leave these documents with anyone or any organization before checking that it’s absolutely essential that they need it in their possession.
Educate Yourself about Digital Security
In today’s world, knowing how to be digitally secure is a necessity. We learnt the familiar lessons of not talking to strangers and always looking both ways before we cross the road while growing up, but now we need to become aware of how to conduct ourselves online and how to look out for our personal privacy online, too. Ignorance about this aspect of life can only lead to problems down the road.
Invest in Identity Theft Protection
When it comes to criminal identity theft, you’ll only know if you’re a victim when it’s too late. Even if it’s a relatively “harmless” crime like speeding, you might be racking up a whole lot in fines by the time you realize that you’re a victim of crimes that you did not commit. Identity theft protection services will help you by letting you know if your personally identifiable information is on the dark web, for example. These services also help by removing your information from people-search websites. In the worst case scenario, many identity theft protection services also insure you in the event that you’re a victim of criminal identity theft.
Shred Important Documents
If you’ve got important documents from your bank, the IRS, your healthcare provider, etc. that you don’t need anymore, don’t just throw them away. Shred those documents so that important, sensitive details are no longer able to be deciphered by others. The digital world easily spills over into the physical world, and vice versa. Understand that these are interconnected and take necessary precautions