As internet users, we rely on the digital space for almost everything—including communication and bank transactions. Unfortunately, so do criminals.
Identity theft cases are rising, and anyone can fall victim to financial ruin and other devastating consequences. It’s important to set some time aside to understand the full impact of identity theft victims and invest in proper security measures.
A large part of understanding means turning to real-life stories of identity theft victims, and this is exactly what we’ve gathered for you.
We reached out to people from all walks of life and gathered the best lessons learned from their respective identity theft experiences. From these stories, we’ve found the best tip to protect yourself against ID theft.
Don’t miss out on crucial security tips and compromise your information—let’s learn together.
Case #1: How a colleague used a stolen ID to get a loan
If you’re wondering what it’s like to suffer identity theft, our anonymous correspondent can tell you. He reminds us that even people we know can be culprits behind identity theft.
“Back in college, a colleague of mine stole my ID to get a loan. I was shocked when I found out that a colleague of mine had stolen my identity and used it to get a $5,000 loan,” he stated.
“They tried to get away with it by claiming they were me, but the bank caught them in the act and reported them,” he shared.
“This resulted in a huge mess for both of us because now we have to contend with identity theft charges and are unable to do our jobs as well as we used to.”
Here, we can see that aside from the legal and financial issues that identity theft can cause, it also causes trust issues and strained relationships with people.
Fortunately for our correspondent, the bank spotted the attempted fraud immediately. Others aren’t so lucky.
One way to tell if someone has stolen your identity is by checking your credit report regularly. You may do so by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.
If you wish to receive your credit report by mail, you can also fill up the Annual Credit Report Request Form. Then, you can mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
If you notice unauthorized transactions, you can report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
Case #2: How stolen driver’s license information funded fraudulent purchases from another state
In a Reddit post, user FraudCheck1 detailed how an identity thief used information from their driver’s license to buy a phone in another state.
The post stated, “I noticed that my phone bill was $20 higher this month. I logged into my mobile provider account and saw a third phone listed on my account. My phone and my wife's phone were still there, but a third phone, iPhone XR, was added in mid-December.”
The Reddit user said they owed a total of $799 in $20 monthly installments. Had they not checked the billing statements, they would’ve paid the full price without noticing it.
After receiving this news, they contacted their mobile provider to ask how this happened.
“They informed me that it was purchased in a far away state that I've never visited. They said the authorization was done at the store using my driver's license. The information about my license sounds correct. However, they can see that the phone has never been activated/utilized as connected to my account.”
The Reddit poster then said the fraudster set the billing address to a third state where the user lived in 2012. They clarified that they still had their valid license and the fraudster must’ve gotten the information elsewhere.
The poster’s mobile phone provider gave them a fraud form, refunded the money, and disconnected the unauthorized phone from the account. The process took three days, but the scary part is that the information is still out there.
One commenter advised that the victim should monitor their other bills and request a credit freeze from the three main credit checking bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to mitigate further fraudulent activities.
Case #3: International credit card fraud due to stolen data on the dark web
Identity theft is more common in the US compared to other countries because of its large population and the prevalence of the internet among its citizens.
However, that doesn’t mean ID theft doesn’t happen globally. Online international fraud is also on the rise nowadays.
One of the most memorable online credit card fraud stories we’ve come across is from an anonymous correspondent. He’s fallen victim to these circumstances multiple times.
Our correspondent recalled an incident from around 2017 to 2018—he just woke up and found two alarming text messages from Citibank.
The first text stated that there was a €1 transaction from the Netherlands using his credit card. Of course, he was shocked to see an overseas transaction he didn’t know about. The second text message said Citibank locked the card because of suspected fraud.
“Usually for such cases, I receive a text or call from them to confirm the transaction, but it was not the case this time,” he stated.
He called the bank to ask about the issue, and the representative said that criminals may have sold their information through the dark web. The representative then speculated that the hacker must’ve been testing transactions, which would explain why it only amounted to €1.
Following the conversation, the bank reversed the changes and shipped a replacement card to our correspondent. He received the card within a week.
Our correspondent recalled another incident with a separate bank, which occurred a few months after his previous story.
This time, however, he only received emails from the bank alerting him of a failed transaction in Europe (he stated that he forgot which country specifically). The culprits had already maxed out the credit card limit, which was extremely stressful on his part.
The bank eventually reversed the transactions, but it took them a month to do so. The victim remains unsure as to how the criminals got his credit card information.
Our anonymous correspondent’s stories remind us why identity theft protection services are vital—especially those with features like dark web screening and credit monitoring. They help us detect if criminals have used our credit cards or sold our data on the dark web.
Case #4: How a stolen Social Security card caused years of damaged credit
One thing you must know about Social Security numbers is that you must do everything you can to protect yours. This is why it’s good advice to leave your Social Security card at home.
One Reddit user, however, had theirs in their wallet, which a criminal stole from them. In a post entitled “Victim of Identity Theft. Years later, still hurting,” Reddit user backsliders detailed their story.
“I was mugged at gunpoint in January of 2010, near my home in Philly. I was stupid to have my social in my wallet, but here we are,” stated the user.
The poster checked their credit while paying for a loan; months later, they began receiving calls and random collections on their credit report. Then, they reported identity theft.
After they paid off the loan, however, they received another call from a collector and checked their credit report again.
“It asked me a bunch of questions, irrelevant to me, regarding a home loan, and places I've never lived or worked at,” said the poster. “I answered ‘none of the above’ to the ones that weren't relevant to me, but because the answers I gave did not match up to their records, I was denied my reports and was suggested to phone in.”
After the credit bureau denied their call, they asked the poster to mail a form instead. They filled it out and had some back-and-forth with the bureau, and the efforts were futile despite the user providing everything the bureau requested.
“I felt it was ridiculous that I had spent so many months just to find out who's screwing with me just to be told I'm not me after providing as much proof as one can. It's just so frustrating because there's no actual person to contact for any of these credit bureaus,” the Reddit user said.
Years after the mugging incident, the Reddit user’s credit is still “very low,” according to them. Lenders and creditors still refuse to let them borrow money.
The user stated, “It's getting […] way too heavy for me, and I just don't know what to do. It makes one feel very powerless and impotent, when I haven't done anything wrong and can't seem to get a break after all these years.”
This story proves why protecting yourself against identity theft is crucial—it has a lasting effect on your finances. Moreover, you’ll likely experience emotional turmoil due to these situations.
Case #5: A close call with a failed identity fraudster
Another notable real-life identity theft example is from Matthew Osborn, CEO, and Founder of tactical defense website Legionary. He agreed to share his experiences to help others avoid ID theft.
In our correspondence, Osborn stated, “I only found out about it because the person who stole my identity tried to get a car loan from a dealership that was owned by a college buddy of mine.”
“He got suspicious when he was talking to the ‘customer’ who was claiming to be me, but waited until they’d filled out the paperwork then he called the police and me (in that order), the culprit was arrested, and after an investigation and bank checks,” Osborn followed up.
Fortunately for Osborn, the failed fraudster hadn’t tried to get credit using his identity before that incident. Had the car dealership’s owner known any less, perhaps the thief would’ve done more damage to Osborn’s finances.
“After lucking out I told my bank, changed my cards, informed the DMV, and all of the relevant authorities, and managed to reclaim the life that I didn’t know I’d lost before any damage was done,” Osborn stated.
A key takeaway here is that aside from depriving criminals of the information they need to commit fraud successfully, you must also inform the proper authorities when these incidents occur. They can help you get the justice and protection you need when dealing with criminals.
Case #6: A chilling case of child identity theft
Child identity theft stories are often the most terrifying to hear because they target some of society’s most vulnerable sectors. A report by the Detroit Free Press stated that 1.3 million children fall victim to identity theft annually.
In one correspondent’s case, the criminal was the victim’s own mother. She stated that the mother “opened a store credit card in my name when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old, charged it up, then of course couldn't pay on it.”
Victims of child identity theft often have to deal with the damages. Although our correspondent didn’t disclose the outcome of the incident, she said, “I think schools should educate children on the dangers of identity theft, and how to guard against it.”
The FTC has guidelines on how to protect your child from identity theft, which include these tips:
- Protect documents containing your child’s personally identifiable information
- Be wary when sharing your child’s SSN
- Delete personal data before discarding electronic devices
How To Prevent Identity Theft
Thankfully, there’s a way for these stories to just remain stories—away from your reality. From their best lessons learned, we’ve gathered the following tips to keep your personal identity safe online:
1. Review your bank and credit card statements carefully
This tip is among the most vital things to do if you want to protect yourself against identity theft.
According to FTC’s 2020 Consumer Sentinel Network report, credit card fraud is the most common cause of identity theft, with 271,000 recorded reports in 2019. To avoid becoming part of the statistics, it’s best to check your credit card and bank statements as regularly as possible.
Any transactions you don’t recognize must be flagged immediately, which could mean you’ve been compromised. Irregularities written on your statements can come in smaller amounts at the beginning, which won’t alarm you just yet.
Once you let your guard down, however, criminals can max out your credit cards and withdraw from your accounts.
2. Use strong passwords across all your online accounts
A strong password contains a unique and complex combination of characters, letters, and numbers. This helps secure your online accounts, but it’s best to create different passwords for your online accounts.
Never use any piece of personal information as your password, including your initials, SSNs, birthdate, and so on. Instead of these, you can opt to use niche information, such as your favorite song title. You can further fortify it by changing letters into numbers and adding characters:
Example: Isn’t She Lovely = 1$sntSH3L0v3Ly!
3. Destroy documents containing personal information
Achieving safety online also means taking care of your personal information in real life. Before disposing of any documents, make sure to shred them. Dumpster diving remains a popular activity across America, which can be another method of stealing personal data.
That said, make sure to destroy the following outdated documents before throwing them in the bin:
- Credit card statements
- Bank statements
- IRS documents, including correspondence letters
- Utility bills
Sometimes, the best way to learn is through someone else’s experience. Now that you know how identity theft impacts people, it’s best to take the necessary steps to protect yourself against it.
Remember these stories, and keep our top tips in mind to avoid the years of financial, legal, and emotional damage that identity theft can cause.