At a time when most Americans thought they had enough on their plates to be concerned about, comes this warning from your Better Business Bureau (BBB): Watch out for “synthetic” identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission this latest form of ID theft has surpassed “true-name” identity theft in number of occurrences. Now it accounts for 80–85% of cases. Victims may not know for some time that they have been targeted because it is so hard to detect.
What is synthetic identity theft?
Synthetic identity theft is a process through which thieves combine real and fake information, possibly from several different victims, to create a brand new and different identity. A stolen Social Security number (often from a child or from someone with no credit history) may be combined with another’s name, another’s address, phone number, etc. With the new fake identity, a crook can open new accounts. They may acquire credit cards, cellphones or other goods and services. In effect they have created a person that doesn’t exist. The problems they cause, however, most definitely exist and can put you through a lengthy and convoluted process to repair the damage.
A scammer may combine a legitimate Social Security number with the address of an abandoned property, a made-up name and birth date. This cobbled-together identity then gets added to one or several legitimate accounts. Gradually they build up a credit history, perhaps making payments and charges over several years. Once they are capable of getting approved for an even higher line of credit, a credit card is maxed out. In what’s called a “bust-out,” they pay nothing back, ditch the identity and are gone.
Among the risks to you are negative credit reports tied to your Social Security number. Since the incidents are not in your name, phone number or address, fraud alerts and credit monitoring or freezes won’t stop the scammer or alert you to what is happening. This is what’s known as a fragmented or sub-file to your main credit file. The unpaid debts they leave behind can hurt your ability to take out loans or get new credit, even though your credit is “good.”
Doing the following should give you some protection against synthetic identity theft:
• Don’t give thieves a foot in the door by being careless with your Social Security number. Never give it out unless absolutely necessary. When asked to provide it, ask why they need it. Be protective of it at all times.
• Keep thieves away from your children. A child’s SS number is highly desirable due to their clean slate. Always protect your child’s Social Security number and other personal information. Check your child’s credit report for tell-tale signs. At annualcreditreport.com you can do so for free once a year.
• Don’t slack when it comes to your financial communications. Watch your mail, phone calls, email, texts, etc. regarding such. Be suspicious and report anything that seems slightly abnormal immediately.
• Shred even junk mail that may contain information a thief could make use of.
There is a lot to think about these days. Online purchasing has mushroomed during the pandemic. That can mean potential exposure of your personal information. Be wary and mindful of any opening you may be giving a scammer.
For other questions or concerns regarding synthetic identity theft, contact the BBB at 800-856-2417 or visit bbb.org.