Identity theft is a particularly insidious type of crime, in that the criminal in some fashion obtains the victim's personal information, and uses that to create fraudulent checking accounts, credit accounts, apply for loans, or even make retail purchases, all in the victim's name. In worst case scenarios, it can be years before the victim realizes this has occurred, and it can take a tremendous amount of time, effort, and resources to resolve.
Criminals can obtain personal data a number of ways. By stealing wallets/purses, laptops/tablets/smart phones that are not adequately protected and have personal data on them, or "phishing" through electronic messages. Phishing is a message that prompts the victim to submit info such as usernames, passwords, birthdates, etc. The message is formatted to pass itself off as a legitimate request from a source such as a financial institution.
There are basic steps you can take to mitigate your risk for identify. Proactively monitor all of your banking and credit accounts. Shred all sensitive documents before throwing them away. Immediately delete any e-mails/messages that appear unusual or suspicious. And once a year, request the free copy of your credit report that you are legally entitled to from one of the national credit reporting agencies.
Additional information about identity theft, and steps you can take to protect yourself, can be found at the following links:
If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, clink on the link below for a pamphlet that details immediate steps you should take: