In 2010, roughly 270,000 Americans fell victim to identity fraud scams. In just the first half of 2013, that number had increased nearly six times to 1.6 million, according to the Department of the Treasury. The likelihood is growing that someone you know will face ID theft, so you need to be aware of how thieves find targets and what they do with the information they steal.

How ID Thieves Find Targets

Unless someone close to you is the criminal, certain groups are more likely to be targets of identity theft than others. Your risk of becoming an ID fraud victim increases if you do the following: 

  • Post sensitive information publicly on social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.
  • Leave credit card receipts and loan applications in the trash instead of shredding them.
  • Make frequent, small purchases with an unsecured debit card.
  • Shop online without verifying the store’s security.
  • Leave your PIN visible to strangers at an ATM.
  • Provide your Social Security number without first asking why it is needed.
  • Carry around your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport, military ID or credit cards that you do not often use.
  • Connect to public Wi-Fi networks or share computers.
  • Keep your mobile phone unlocked.
  • Store your PIN or passwords in an easily accessible place.
  • Live in a large metropolitan area.
  • Don’t check your credit reports regularly.
  • Gather attention as a celebrity or high-profile executive.

The Goal of Identity Theft

A few thieves take identities for the thrill. They like the rush of stealing someone’s private details, setting up accounts and running away with the proceeds without getting caught. Some thieves do not even steal money; they simply commit the crime as a type of “prank.”

Some reasons for ID fraud may seem noble, but they still represent a crime. For instance, the perpetrator may want to give himself a second chance by using your credit rating instead of his own. He may want to apply for a job under your name. He may want to run from past mistakes by taking on a new persona.

In most cases of identity theft, however, the motive is simple: money. Fraudsters want to buy giant televisions and trips to Bermuda on your credit cards. They want to drain your life savings and use it as their own. They want your tax refund sent to their checking account instead of yours.

Fighting Back

Whatever the reason for the attack, identity fraud leaves frustrating, stressful and even debilitating consequences. One identity restoration company reports that victims must spend an average of 58 hours to repair damage to existing accounts and 165 hours to repair damage from new accounts.

All consumers must take steps to limit access to their personal details and destroy information that is already floating around. Because not much of a person’s identity changes over time, thieves can wait months or years to strike. By staying on guard, you can prevent ID fraud and react immediately if it happens to occur.