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Preventing Identity Theft: What is ID Theft?

To start this course, we'd like you to think about what you are already doing to protect your identity. How many of these steps are you taking?

  • Limit the number of identification cards that you carry
  • Refuse to give out personal information over the phone unless you have initiated the call
  • Signed up for the State or National Do Not Call Registry
  • Shred or destroy credit card receipts, credit applications, bank checks, and financial statements
  • Told credit bureaus you do not want to receive unsolicited credit or insurance offers
  • Regularly review your credit card and other financial statements
  • Ordered and reviewed a copy of your credit report


As you go through the course, you will understand why these steps are important. You may be already doing some of them. You can take more steps—or a first one—during this course. Now is always the right time to protect yourself from identity theft.

Just like preventing any crime, to prevent identity theft, you have to understand the tools the thieves use to commit their crime. In this session, you'll learn what identity theft is, and what thieves use to commit it.

To understand what identity theft is, let's look first at what your "identity" actually is. Then, we'll look at how thieves can steal it.

What Is Your Identity?

If you ask most people to identify themselves, they probably would tell you they are skinny or balding, tall or short. Or they may say, "I'm a baby boomer who's planning a second career after I retire." You might hear, "I'm a new grandparent and I'm more thrilled about it than I ever thought I would be."

You may be tall, dark, handsome, a boomer and a grandparent. But that is not your identity-at least in the identity theft sense. Your identity is all those bits of identifying information about you that are pieced together to make your financial identity.

Which of these are part of your financial identity?

  • Name
  • Address
  • Social Security number
  • Mother's maiden name
  • ATM PIN (Personal Identification Number)
  • Date of birth
  •  Bank account number


Did you choose all seven? Congratulations! You have identified some of the pieces of information that make up your identity.

How Do Thieves Steal Your Identity?

You may be wondering how your identity can be stolen if you still have your own identity—and you haven't lost your credit cards or purse recently. Many victims of identity theft are shocked to learn that someone else has been taking out loans, ordering cell phone accounts, getting new credit cards and even committing crimes using the victim's identity. Thieves do this by collecting those bits of identifying information about you and piecing them together to create a "new you."

It's like there are two of you—the real you with your good credit, and the other person pretending to be you. Without your even knowing this other you exists, the identity thief does financial things using your identity. The thief's real name and identity are invisible because the thief uses your name and identity.

It can be hard to appreciate the seriousness of identity theft. Some consumers tell us that they don't know why they need to be concerned about it. One AARP member said, "I don't have very good credit any way, so why would anyone want my identity?" Others have said, "I don't use a lot of credit cards and I'm not going to borrow any money any time soon, so why should I care?" If a thief takes your identity, eventually you will find out why you should care—perhaps when you least expect it.

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