People live a huge portion of their lives in the digital sphere, so most people will have their sensitive information stolen at some point, if not multiple times. It may be as small as noticing a few dollars of unauthorized activity on your credit card or as damaging as someone stealing your identity and trashing your credit as a result. No matter what might happen, everyone should be prepared for the possibility of becoming a victim of fraud and responding accordingly.
Preventing fraud or identity theft is extremely difficult, because the reward for stealing someone’s information is too great for thieves to be deterred by laws and security measures. As depressing as it may seem, there are very few people you can trust with your personal information, and even some of the people you’re closest to could potentially betray your confidence. Whether they find stealing enjoyable or can’t resist the temptation of abusing positions of power, pretty much anyone can commit identity theft.
Obviously, these are the people everyone fears, but only so many people have the tech skills to hack sensitive information stored online. Then again, companies don’t always make it difficult for hackers to access such data. Beyond worrying about getting hacked, you have to think about all the people who might take advantage of you.
2. Your Mom
Sadly, it happens. Parents have access to their kids’ Social Security numbers, and if they’ve trashed their own credit, their children’s identities can be irresistible clean slates.
3. A Friend
It’s probably not a good idea to leave your checkbook lying around in your apartment for anyone to see, even if you could never imagine your friend taking it.
4. A Government Worker
Crimes of opportunity are especially prevalent among people who handle documents bearing information like your name, address, birthdate and Social Security number.
5. Bank Tellers
A group of five New York bank tellers were recently charged with stealing customers’ identities to make fake IDs and checks. It’s not the first time something like that has happened, though.
6. Debt Collectors
Scammers impersonate debt collectors because they think they can intimidate you into giving them money or your personal information, but there was recently a debt collector sentenced to 14 years in prison for using his business as a way to steal debtors’ identities.
7. Your Employer
Think about all the information you give a company when you apply for a job. You don’t really know what happens to an application after you’ve submitted it, so whether you’re hired or not, there’s a risk of that paperwork ending up in the wrong hands. If you’re looking for a job, you’re probably not going to question such information-gathering practices, which is exactly what one woman counted on when she posed as an employer in order to defraud job seekers.
8. A Nurse
Caretakers get a bad name from people who abuse their positions in the lives of the elderly and disabled, because it can be easy to get away with using the identity of someone who isn’t capable of defending him or herself.
Similarly, people who work in healthcare sometimes have access to patients’ personal information. In August, a New York nurse and her boyfriend were sentenced to prison for stealing her patients’ identities in order to fraudulently apply for credit cards.
9. Your Neighbor
Anyone with access to your mail could swipe a pre-approved credit card application or any sort of identifying document and use it to open accounts in your name. You may never know you’re missing a piece of mail, so make sure you check your credit report regularly for any unauthorized use of your identity.
10. A Facebook Friend
People put lots of personal information online, making social media a vehicle for identity theft. You don’t even need to fall victim to a scam to experience this (though it increases the likelihood), because if you share enough publicly, there’s someone out there who can use it to their advantage.
11. A Drive-Thru Worker
As serious as identity theft is, there’s no denying some stories about it are funny. For example, there was the Taco Bell drive-thru worker who was accused of stealing people’s credit cards earlier this year. No one expects to grab a taco and have their identity stolen along the way.
OK, this one is a little out there, but a blogger once made the case that the devil concocted the first phishing scheme (see: Bible, Book of Genesis, chapter 3).
13. Court Employees
If you end up in the court system, there’s a lot of information about you in the hands of court workers. As if dealing with litigation isn’t bad enough, you might end up ensnared in an identity theft case, like some people who encountered a rogue court clerk in Florida last year.
14. A Police Officer
People like to think they can trust the police, but just like court workers and government employees, there are some people who abuse their privileged access to sensitive data.
15. Your Accountant
This one is pretty bad: The owner of four H&R Blocks in Virginia pleaded guilty this month to using her clients’ identities to open lines of credit for her personal use. Such news does not help the reputation of doing taxes.
16. Security Workers
A man employed by a shredding company to destroy sensitive documents from a VA hospital was arrested on the suspicion that he did not shred the papers and instead used them to steal 34 veterans’ identities.
17. Restaurant Servers
There are very few situations in which consumers allow their credit cards to leave their sight when making a transaction, but it happens at nearly every restaurant. As a result, it’s not uncommon for credit card fraud to lead back to a restaurant employee who developed a nasty habit of copying card information before returning checks to customers.
Pretty much anyone can steal your identity. While it’s important to make smart decisions that will help protect you from fraud, trying to avoid all risks is a sure path to paranoia, which isn’t a helpful strategy for anyone wishing to interact with others. Think about it: You pay for things, fill out forms and share your data with others every day, and short of unplugging and living in the woods, you can’t avoid doing so. As a result, it’s crucial to keep tabs on your accounts and credit history, so if fraud happens, you can quickly act to minimize the damage.
To do so, you should pull your free annual credit reports from the three major credit bureaus, as well as check your credit scores regularly. You can get two of your credit scores for free with updates every 30 days on Credit.com.
More on Identity Theft:
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
- What Should I Do If I’m a Victim of Identity Theft?
- How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life