There are actually a number of very simple ways thieves can steal enough personal data from you to compromise your identity, and these include:
1) Stealing your wallet / purse / briefcase
2) Intercepting your mail & email
3) Collecting your trash to steal any documents you have thrown away without shredding, such as bank statements, cell phone bills or wage slips.
4) Phone/Mail Scams – fraudsters will use the telephone, email and mail systems to try and con you into revealing your personal data to them directly. One trick is to pose as legitimate organizations and ask you to confirm your account information.
5) Shoulder Surfing – this basically means thieves stand behind you when you are putting in your PIN number or logging into your online accounts on a public Internet computer. They memorize your details so that they can access your accounts later on.
a) Thieves can pose as official creditors, lenders or landlords to obtain a copy of your consumer credit report, which they can then use to gain access to your credit history details.
b) Malware – there are over a dozen different types of malware programs that can be used by hackers to infiltrate your computer to gain access to the personal data it contains. One example is keyloggers, which record all of your keystrokes as you sign in to your online email and banking accounts, so that thieves can steal your passwords and login information.
c) Data breaching – thieves can target business databanks and steal thousands of customers’ information in one hit. They can either do this by hacking in to online databanks or by infiltrating the organization under the guise of an employee (or by bribing an existing employee) and stealing information directly.
There is no 100% protection from identity theft, but you can reduce the risks by taking a number of common sense steps to protect your data. Stolen identities can cost victims a lot of time and money to resolve, so you should treat your personal information as you would any other valuable commodity. Also, you can take the following steps to safeguard it:
1) Never carry important identifying documents around with you unless absolutely unnecessary, such as your SSN number, passport or drivers license.
2) Don’t use checks – checks come printed with your name and account numbers, and if thieves steal your check book, they will have instant access to your checking account information and will be able to start writing checks immediately before you can take any action. Use plastic cards instead, as although these show your name, they only show the card number itself and not your main account details, and they contain an extra layer of protection in the PIN number and instant electronic canceling. This means that you can phone your card provider as soon as you realize your card is missing and get them to cancel the number so that no one can use it to process any more payments. However, cash is still the safest form of payment.
3) Be vigilant with your mail, and check that you receive each of your bills and statements every month. If you are missing one, call the provider immediately to see if it has been issued, and also to check if they still have your correct address, (as thieves can intercept your mail and change you account addresses using the tear off slip so that they can divert your bills). If you do suspect your mail is being tampered with, report it immediately, and in the meantime make sure you get any important documents sent to the post office and pick them up in person.
4) Monitor your credit report carefully as this can help you spot any fraudulently applications for credit made in your name. You can request free copies of your report from the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.