How Does Identity Theft and Online Fraud Happen?

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information to use for illegal activities.  It happens most often through electronic means (see below).  How Does Identity Theft and Online Fraud Happen?However, it also happens through methods as simple as stealing sensitive mail out of your mailbox (bank statements, etc.) or someone breaking into your home.

How Does Identity Theft and Online Fraud Happen?

Online fraud and identity theft comes in many different forms.  For instance, we’ve all gotten those emails promising millions of dollars if we help someone overseas transfer their inheritance to the US.  You have also probably seen emails from PayPal or your bank saying there is a problem with your account and requesting information.  They can look very official, but they are a scam.

Sometimes these attempts at fraud are very easy to spot. But if you’re not careful, they can lure you into clicking a link that will download a virus to your computer.

Here’s a list of some of the most common methods of online fraud and identity theft:

Data Breaches

Data breaches happen when a hacker (or even a trusted employee breaks into a corporate or government computer to steal data.  This includes info such as credit card numbers, names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and more.


Skimming happens at the point of transaction.  It usually happens when an employee at a gas station, restaurant, or other business uses a hand held credit card scanner to steal your information and store it for later use.

Unsecure Smartphones

Smartphones are not very secure.  When you make a call, use an app, send a text, or send email, someone may be monitoring those activities.  With the right equipment or a malicious app, it’s easy to gain access to a smartphone and steal any data on that phone.


Phishing is an attempt to get you to share personal information.  It usually comes in the form of an email asking for information from someone posing as your bank or other official entity.  Phishing can also happen in a popup on your computer screen saying you’ve won a prize or a contest.  The goal is to get you to click on a link that downloads a virus to your computer that gains complete access to your information.

Unsecure Internet Connections

Using an unsecure public wifi connection can also be a problem.  Since it’s public and unsecured, others can monitor your activity and gain access to your computer.  Be very careful about what networks you use.

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