Identity theft is the use of another person’s personal information without his or her permission. The information misused may be a name and Social Security number, a username and password, or a bank or credit card account card or number. Identity theft may be a single charged item on a credit card or a full-blown takeover of an identity to the extent that the real owner suffers great hardship. Identity theft is not as rare as people would hope, and there are some common identity theft stories that reveal many people being caught out by the same trick. Knowing common identity theft stories is one way to avoid being entrapped by them.
One of the most common identity theft stories begins with an email or phone call informing the target that he or she has won a lottery, sweepstakes, cruise, or other enticing prize. This is a type of phishing scam — so named for its similarity to baiting and luring a fish in fishing — that tries to entice the target into giving away personal information. In this case, name address, and Social Security number might be requested with the claim that this is necessary in order to send the target his or her winnings, or a bank account number might be requested for a direct deposit of winnings.
Another of the common identity theft stories involves an impersonation of an organization that is assisting victims of some terrible disaster. It could be a wildfire, an earthquake, hungry children, or abused animals, but it will certainly be some situation to rend the heartstrings of those who are contacted and asked to contribute. A combination of real and made-up information may be employed. The target is asked for a donation, possibly by credit card — in which case the money, and the credit card number, will go to the scammer — and possibly by clicking a link from an email or on a website, in which case, malware of some sort may be downloaded onto the target’s computer.
One of the widespread common identity theft stories is shared by many, many people who have mistaken a spoof email or website, made to look just like a real one, for the real thing. This is commonly done with financial institutions and government agencies, but other organizations, such as retailers or other organizations with which the target might have financial connections may be used as well. In this case, an email with a warning — of default on an account or charges that will be incurred — and request for immediate action has scared many people on clicking on links and entering account information, rather than contacting the organization using a phone number on an issued card or in the telephone book to verify the authenticity of the communication.