ID theft: The how, what, and where

Updated January 26, 2020
Cyber Crime ID theft

You’ve probably heard the news story of a data breach where clients’ Social Security numbers and other personal information were hacked by criminals.  Perhaps, you have even received a letter from your insurance company or financial institution letting you know that your personal information was compromised.  If so, you could be the victim of identity theft.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice identity theft (or fraud) is a term used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.  

How do criminals obtain your personal information?
Criminals can easily obtain your personal data without having to break into your home.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Shoulder surfing”—someone watches from a nearby location or over your shoulder as you punch in your credit card/ATM number.
  • Listening in on a conversation as you give your credit card number to a hotel or rental car company.
  • Looking through mail for “pre-approved” credit card letters.
  • Data breaches.

What do thieves do with your information?

Once the thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance.  Additionally, they can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. 

Clues that someone has stolen your information.Warning ID theft on monitor

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.

The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.

Top tips for identity theft protection

The State of California, Office of the Attorney General, offers the following tips for ID theft protection:

  • Protect your Social Security number.Don’t carry your card with you.
  • Fight “phishing” - don’t take the bait.Scam artists “phish” for victims by pretending to be banks, stores, or government agencies.They do this over the phone, in email, and in regular mail.Don’t respond to any request to verify your account number or password.
  • Polish your password practices.Use different passwords for all your accounts.Passwords should be at least eight characters, with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Be mysterious on social networks.Don’t share your home or email address, children’s names, birthdate, etc.Thieves can use them for scams, phishing, and account theft.
  • Shield your computer and smartphone. Use firewall, virus and spyware protection software you update regularly.
  • Check your statements.Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away.Check them carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don’t arrive on time.
  • Stop pre-approved credit offers.Call 1-888-5OPTOUT or go online at
  • Check your credit reports for free.Call 1-877-322-8228 or online at


If you are a victim of identity theft, you can file a report online with the Roseville Police Department or call 916-774-5000 option 1.


Where to get more information


Tax Identity Theft

ID Theft

Web pages

Roseville Police identity Theft

FTC identity theft

California State identity theft

DMV identity theft