Battling a new type of Identity Theft
A new type of identity theft is surfacing. You may be a victim right now and not know it for years. It’s almost impossible to prevent, but there are important red flags to watch for to help you limit the damage.
It’s called Synthetic Identity Theft. Unlike traditional ID theft, crooks steal your Social Security Number, but tie it to a different name, creating a new, fictional person. That makes it more difficult to detect.
“So it is actually more insidious and more frightening for a victim,” says Attorney Mari Frank. Frank represents several Synthetic Identity Theft victims too devastated to talk.
Attorney Frank says one was being hounded by the IRS, “…and had charged her with thousands of penalties and fees and were going to literally put her in jail.”
The thieves open bank accounts and credit cards, even get jobs, but it can take years to uncover because it’s difficult for investigators and creditors to unravel all the mismatched information.
Five years ago, this crime was hardly seen but now Stephen Coggeshell of ID Analytics says, “eighty-five to ninety percent of Identity Fraud is really this Synthetic ID Fraud, as opposed to the true name Identity Theft.”
Since the fraud isn’t committed in your name, it typically doesn’t show up on your credit report because not enough of the ID information matches you. But your stolen Social Security Number could end up in all kinds of different databases, including those for background checks.
Privacy expert Chris Hoofnagle says, “what Synthetic Identity thieves do is pollute the files.”
That could affect you when you go for a loan or apply for a job. And the trouble isn’t always financial.
Attorney Frank says, “I had another gentleman… his Social Security Number was used by someone who was tried for murder and so every time there was a background check that pulled up his name, it linked these other databases showing him as arrested for murder.”
To find out if you’re a victim, Hoofnagle says there are steps you can take. “Look at your Social Security statement that you receive once a year from the government carefully and make sure that there isn’t income on there that you didn’t actually earn.”
Also, if you get a lot of mail in someone else’s name, start digging. Be vigilant because you have a lot to lose.
“Your Social Security Number right now is the key to really destroy your life because if someone uses it with or without your name. it still can come back to haunt you,” says Frank.
While Synthetic ID Fraud doesn’t typically show up on your credit report, experts say it’s still critical to check your report yearly to verify all activity.