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Virginians should be on high alert for signs of identity theft

In this fast-paced, digital world it gets easier and easier for people with bad motives to steal your personal identifying information and use it for their own, illegal activities to your financial detriment. Identity theft is no joke – your life can feel ruined when someone masquerading as you runs up bills and other financial obligations in your name, to say nothing of the negative impact their activities can have on your credit score and ability to conduct your own affairs.

Identity theft is rampant and local

You do not need to look very far. The simplest Google search reveals many, many recent news stories of identity theft tied to Virginia. For example, as of this March 2021 writing:

  • Two Norfolk defendants pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for using stolen debit, credit and gift card accounts to purchase liquor for resale.
  • A New Orleans man who had committed fraud in several cities including Richmond received a 74-month federal sentence for using stolen credit and debit card numbers to encode into bogus cards used to purchase merchandise he then returned to different stores, where he asked the merchant to credit to his own account.
  • A Hampton man will serve time in prison for using another person’s identity on a loan application at a credit union while presenting fraudulent supporting identity records.

Nothing is sacred

Scammers are using the current public health crisis to invent new ways to use the theft of identities for their own gain. For example, people who have posted pictures of their vaccination cards on social media have had identity thieves steal their names and birthdates. A variety of schemes related to stimulus checks are popping up such as the use of fraudulent emails asking for account information to deposit the checks or for social security numbers to release the money, reports WHSV.

There are even stories of personal identifying information purchased on the dark web for filing fraudulent unemployment insurance claims during the health emergency, writes The Associated Press. Credit card and debit card numbers are especially vulnerable during this time of quarantining when people want to transact business online and by phone, according to WRIC.

Raise your awareness

Occurrences and signals that may signal personal identifying information theft:

  • Phone calls or emails arrive in which people say they are with your bank, a government agency or a merchant requesting your social security number (SSN), account numbers, date of birth or similar information to confirm your identity, finish a transaction or tell you about fraud on your account – when actually they are the fraudster. Call the institution to confirm if the request was legitimate and do not give out the information.
  • Emails come in directing you to click on a link that could install malware or spyware on your computer or take you to a counterfeit website requesting your credit or debit card information.
  • Bills may arrive for things you never purchased or loan payments for credit you never sought.
  • Unknown withdrawals or payments appear on your bank account.
  • Collection agencies contact you about bills in your name that you did not incur.
  • Financial institutions and merchants begin to turn you down for credit or refuse your cards or checks.
  • Applications for security clearances, school admission, jobs, professional licenses and similar privileges are denied based on poor credit.
  • Credit reports from credit bureaus show false transactions, late payments or defaulted loans that you never took out.
  • A relative or friend begins to take things or money or use your credit without asking.
  • You lose or someone steals your wallet, purse, tablet or mobile phone, or takes your vehicle with a trove of identifying information in the glove box.
  • You receive information that someone has tried to apply for insurance or government benefits or received medical care using your identity.
  • Your bank or another place with your personal information notifies you of a data breach.
  • And many others

Stay tuned for more on identity theft and identity fraud

Not only do identity theft schemes violate state and federal criminal laws, but state and federal consumer protection laws and agencies provide legal remedies for victims. In future posts, we will share information about those remedies.