What Is Identity Theft?

We've all heard about identity theft, but do you really know what it means?

It's almost impossible not to know about identity theft these days. But do you really know what it means? Many people know all about identity theft protection without really understanding what the crime is, what it consists of, and what it means.

Since knowledge is power, you should know everything you can about identity theft. Fortunately, all you have to do is keep reading!

Identity Theft Facts

So what is identity theft, exactly? The criminal definition says that identity theft is any crime that involves pretending to be someone else, usually for financial gain or to get benefits in another person's name. Identity theft is really just a fancy term for fraud.

Surprisingly, the crime is older than you think: the term identity theft first appeared in the mid-sixties. Although online identity theft is a more recent phenomenon, as soon as our society began numbering and categorizing people, identity thieves saw the opportunity.

The reason identity theft is so common these days is that everything is computerized. Computers reduce data to numbers and sequences, which means that if someone can obtain your numbers -- whether it's your SSN, your credit card numbers, or your passport numbers -- they can basically access everything about you.

Think about it: how many people have a personal relationship with their banks these days, for example? A hundred years ago, people knew each other and would get suspicious if a stranger tried to pass themselves off as someone else. These days, even people who consider themselves close friends have often never met face to face, making identity theft much easier.

Types of identity theft

Most people divide identity theft into five subcategories. They are as follows:

-Financial identity theft: This is the most common form of identity theft, and involves using someone else's identity to apply for credit or otherwise access their money.

-Business/commercial identity theft: This is when someone manages to steal a corporation or business' information rather than a person's. Usually they apply for credit or other financial aid in the business' name.

-Criminal identity theft: This is when someone uses a stolen identity to avoid prosecution for a crime.

-Medical identity theft: This is when someone uses another's identity to obtain drugs or medical assistance.

-Identity cloning: This is the least common form of identity theft, and involves completely assuming another person's identity and daily life.

Obviously, some of the things we think of in association with identity theft, such as phishing and online scams, are not actually forms of identity theft in and of themselves. Instead, they are ploys that lead to online identity theft. It's important to know the difference: a person who sends out dozens of phishing emails has not technically committed identity theft -- yet.

Knowledge is power, so it's in your best interests to learn everything you can. You're now well on your way to knowing the identity theft facts!

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