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Preventing Identity Theft: What is ID Theft?

John T., an airport security guard, took a short vacation to Mexico. When he tried to return home, he was arrested at the border—because "he" was wanted for murder. John was held in jail on a fugitive warrant until he could prove "he" wasn't the suspect and that his identity had been stolen. After a week in jail, he finally was able figure out that someone had found his driver's license and applied for a new one using his picture and John's information. That person was wanted for murder. But his driver's license number was the same as John's.

Mary W. had been widowed for ten years. One day she got a call from a bill collector demanding payment for thousands of dollars of electronic equipment. Someone using her deceased husband's name had purchased the equipment in 2004 and not paid for it. She never found out how they got her husband's Social Security number. But she realized that she had recently thrown away a lot of old files while cleaning out his desk. The thieves must have found her husband's Social Security number in those old files. They used it for an "instant credit" application at the electronics store.

Sue G. decided to go high-tech and purchase her first cell phone. She was denied credit because "she" had $568 in unpaid cell phone bills. When she started investigating where this phone bill came from, she checked her credit report. There, she learned that someone had opened other accounts using her name. She's not sure, but she remembers a rash of mail being stolen from mailboxes in her neighborhood. She always used to clip her mail to the outside of her mailbox. A thief must have taken her identification numbers from some mail to get a cell phone in her name.

Fred T. found that retirement was not so exciting after all, so he applied for a part-time job as a clerk at a neighborhood store. He got turned down because "he" had an unpaid court judgment for $15,000. Eventually Fred figured out that a workman in his home had taken bank account statements off his desk. The thief must have used Fred's personal information to borrow money. When the loan never got paid back, it ended up in court.

Maria C. got a bounced-check notice and fee from her bank right after she had deposited her pay check. She finally found out that someone had stolen a check out of the middle of her checkbook. It must have been when she left her purse in a grocery store shopping cart. They used her bank account number to open a new account, order new checks, and withdraw all the money from her account.

It's pretty scary how ordinary people going about their day-to-day business suddenly find out that their identity has been stolen. Now you understand more about what your "identity" is. You've seen what can happen when your identity gets used to commit a fraud or crime.

Next, in Session Two, you'll learn what you can do to reduce the chance these things will happen to you. You'll lower the chance that a thief will steal your identity, or use your identity to commit fraud or a crime.

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