Criminal identity theft can turn lives upside down. This type of identity theft goes beyond financial fraud; it involves the use of your personal information for unlawful activities. From tarnishing your reputation to causing legal headaches, the impact can be immense.

The numbers are alarming. In the last two decades, identity theft has increased by nearly 600%.

So, what exactly is criminal identity theft, and how does it happen? Moreover, how can you defend yourself?

This article aims to answer these questions, offering straightforward advice to help you protect your identity. Read on to learn about different types of criminal identity theft, how they work, and practical steps to help keep your identity secure.

What Are the Most Common Types of Criminal Identity Theft?

When it comes to safeguarding your identity, knowing is half the battle. Criminals employ various tactics to misuse your personal information for illegal or deceitful activities. Let’s look at the most prevalent forms of criminal identity theft so you can recognize the risks and take measures to help protect yourself.

Financial Identity Theft

Financial identity theft is one of the most common forms. With 441,822 cases reported, credit card fraud was the most prevalent form of identity theft last year. Here, the thief uses your personal data — often your name and Social Security number — to open new bank accounts, take out loans, or rack up credit card charges.

The fallout? A damaged credit score and heaps of debt you didn’t accumulate. Monitoring your credit report and banking activity can offer a first line of defense against this form of identity theft.

Medical Identity Theft

Medical identity theft involves the unauthorized use of someone’s personal information to secure medical services or prescriptions. The outcome can be dire — wrong medical information can go into your record, affecting your future treatment. Consistently review medical bills and keep your medical records in a safe place to help protect yourself.

Insurance Identity Theft

In insurance identity theft, someone using your identity could apply for and receive an insurance policy you’re unaware of. This could severely affect you when making legitimate claims, as the insurance company may doubt your identity.

To avoid falling into this trap, handle your insurance papers carefully and frequently review your policies for unusual activities.

Social Security Identity Theft

Your Social Security number is a gateway to multiple forms of identity theft. In Social Security identity theft, someone uses your SSN to obtain employment, government benefits, or even a new identity. This can result in a lower credit score, unexpected tax liabilities, and job-related issues.

To help protect yourself, avoid sharing your Social Security number unnecessarily and report strange activities linked to your Social Security account.

Child Identity Theft

Children are vulnerable targets because their credit is typically untouched, and monitoring is less frequent. In child identity theft, the criminal uses the child’s Social Security number to open new accounts or secure benefits. As a parent, be cautious about sharing your child’s personal information and consider a credit monitoring service for minors.

Tax Identity Theft

This happens when someone files a tax return and fraudulently claims a refund using your information. The issue here is twofold: the fraud can affect your legitimate refund and may raise red flags with tax authorities. If your tax return gets rejected due to a duplicate filing, you should alert the IRS immediately.

Theft comes in many forms, and each has unique risks and challenges. However, with vigilance, you can help protect yourself from becoming a statistic in the rising trend of criminal identity theft.

8 Tips to Help Prevent Criminal Identity Theft

With identity theft on the rise, protecting yourself is more vital than ever. You don’t need to be a tech wizard to secure your personal information.

Here are practical steps to help minimize your risk of becoming a victim of criminal identity theft.

1. Monitor Your Identity and Credit Report

Review your credit report and financial statements regularly. Sporadic or suspicious transactions can be early indicators of identity theft. If something seems off, act quickly to resolve the issue.

2. Be Careful What You Share

Limit the personal information you disclose, especially on social media. Simple details such as your birthdate or pet’s name can be used to guess passwords or security questions. Adjust your privacy settings and think twice before posting anything that could aid identity thieves.

3. Learn to Spot the Warning Signs of a Phishing Attack

Phishing emails or messages aim to trick you into revealing sensitive information. These often appear legitimate but may contain misspellings or ask for details a genuine institution would never request via email. If you get an unexpected request for personal information, contact the company directly to verify its legitimacy.

4. Use an Identity Theft Protection Service to Monitor Your Personal Information

IdentityIQ identity theft protection services alert you to unusual activities related to your financial accounts and personal data. These services act as a second set of eyes, helping you stay one step ahead of potential thieves.

5. Shred Valuable Documents

Old tax returns, bank statements, and credit card offers should be destroyed properly. A simple cross-cut shredder can render these papers useless to anyone hoping to sift through your trash for personal details.

6. Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi or Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) When Online

Public Wi-Fi networks are less secure and more susceptible to hacks. If you need to connect while you’re away from home, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN can mask your online activities and make it more difficult for someone to intercept your data.

7. Keep Your Wallet, Purse, and Physical IDs Secure at All Times

Never leave your wallet or purse unattended. Even if your cards are returned, someone could have snapped photos of them for later use. Always know where your identification cards are and store them in a safe place when not in use.

8. Use Unique Passwords

Use distinct passwords for different accounts. Reusing passwords makes it easier for thieves to gain access to multiple areas of your life with just one successful guess. Consider using a password manager to create and store complex passwords securely.

Protecting yourself from criminal identity theft involves adopting smart habits and being vigilant. Regular monitoring, prudent sharing, and employing a layered security approach can go a long way in safeguarding your personal information. With these tips, you’re better prepared to prevent identity theft and the headaches that come with it.


How do criminals steal your identity?

Criminals use various methods to steal your identity. They may hack into databases, use phishing emails to trick you into revealing personal information, or even rummage through your trash for discarded documents. Skimming devices on ATMs and gas station pumps can also capture your card data. It’s a multi-faceted problem requiring your constant vigilance.

How common is identity theft?

Identity theft is a growing issue. According to, 1,108,609 total identity theft cases were reported last year. It’s a serious concern that affects people of all ages and walks of life, underscoring the need for everyone to take preventive measures.

Is a victim of identity theft liable for the fraud committed?

Victims of identity theft are usually not held responsible for the unauthorized transactions. Federal laws, such as the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), provide some protection. Nonetheless, you have to act promptly to report the theft to your bank, credit card company, and the authorities to minimize your liability.

What is the impact of identity theft on your credit report?

Identity theft can wreak havoc on your credit report. Unauthorized loans or credit card charges can lower your credit score, affecting your ability to secure future credit or even a job.

Monitoring your credit report can help you catch these issues early. If you find inaccuracies, contact the credit bureaus immediately to begin fixing your report.

How do I know if I’ve been a victim of identity theft?

Detecting identity theft can be subtle. Monitor your bank and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions, even small ones. Thieves often test with small amounts before going for a larger haul. Receiving unexpected bills, declining credit scores, or being contacted by debt collectors for debts you don’t owe are also red flags. If you notice these signs, take immediate action.

Bottom Line

Now that you know more about criminal identity theft and some preventive tips, you should be able to bolster your defenses against this growing problem. While individual vigilance is a robust first line of defense, sometimes you might want an expert in your corner for an added sense of security.

If you’re seeking a comprehensive solution, enlist the help of IdentityIQ. The identity theft protection solution offers a variety of services to monitor your financial well-being, from keeping an eye on your credit score to sending timely alerts if suspicious activity appears on your account. Plus, with the added benefit of identity theft insurance, you have a safety net in place, just in case.

In a world where threats are ever-changing, IdentityIQ provides you with a stable shield against identity-related crimes. Staying informed and taking practical steps can significantly reduce your risk. But for those who want more, IdentityIQ extends a helping hand, offering additional layers of security and peace of mind. Take charge of your identity safety today.