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The Most Unusual Identity Theft Stories of 2014

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We might have the notion of what an identity thief looks like: a criminal mastermind sitting in the dark, his stern face illuminated by a bank of computer monitors.

In reality, the crimes and the criminals are much more mundane: A thief is more likely to stumble upon paper files left behind in a cab or public restroom and use that to his own ends; instead of buying up jewelry and iPads, a hacker might use a fake name to hook up utilities at his house.

Identity theft claims a new victim every two seconds. More than 13 million people experienced fraud over the past year, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. Out of the massive caseload built by the IDT911 Fraud Resolution Center, here are six that stand out for their brazenness.

1. Lavatory Lurker

Who knew your identity was at risk in a public restroom? One identity thief stole some paper files left behind in a VA Medical Center restroom and redirected the victim’s benefits to a fraudulent bank account.

2. The Homebody Bandit

When this perpetrator used a victim’s identity to set up accounts, it wasn’t credit cards that purchased jewels or cards—but services that created a cozy home: gas, electric, cable, Internet and phone services.

3. The Big Spender

Ten credit cards, multiple checking accounts and loans were taken out in an unsuspecting victim’s name to finance a comfortable lifestyle, including a $40,000 car and a credit card with a $30,000 spending limit.

4. The Catfishing Cupid

After falling for someone who represented himself as a successful businessman on an online dating site, our victim discovered her slippery Lothario had “catfished” her, using her personal information to cash checks.

5. The Uncle Sam Scammer

This criminal used stolen personal information to fraudulently file a tax return and steal a $50,000 refund that the victim is still trying to recoup.

6. The Password Phisher 

The email asking for personal information looked like it was from the victim’s credit union, but it was really from a thief who used the information to steal $15,000 from the victim’s financial accounts.

If you suspect you’ve become a victim of identity theft or wish to proactively manage your identity, check with your insurance company, financial institution, or employee benefits provider. Checking your credit score regularly (you can get two free scores every month from Credit.com) can also serve to alert you that your identity has been compromised. A big, unexplained drop can point to possible new-account fraud. It is also smart to check your free annual credit reports to make sure that there aren’t any accounts in your name that you don’t recognize.

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