Synthetic Identity Theft: How to Avoid It


It’s very hard to feel sorry for cybercriminals. After all, they spend the bulk of their time trying to steal identities, information and finances from innocent, unsuspecting victims. And sadly, most of the victims are usually elderly, or in many cases children. So why feel sorry for these crooks? Well, because of aggressive awareness campaigns put on by the FTC, the IRS and other federal agencies over the past few years, it’s getting harder for some cybercriminals to steal the necessary personal information needed to commit identity theft.

So, cybercriminals are turning to a new form of identity theft – called synthetic identity theft, which, according to the Federal Reserve, is becoming the fastest growing form of identity theft in the country. It’s surpassing financial identity theft and medical identity theft. And it’s a unique form that utilizes personal data taken from real people that is merged with data and details that the cybercriminal makes up. It’s a completely phony identity, but because it has elements of real people’s data, it is successfully used to commit all types of fraud.


The Top Targets: Children and the Elderly

According to OneRep, when it comes to synthetic identity theft, cybercrooks are mostly targeting children and the elderly, as well as the recently deceased. Children are the ideal target because cybercriminals steal their Social Security numbers, and the theft is often not detected for many years. The crime could be revealed when the child turns 18 and applies to college or begins to look for work, or when he or she tries to purchase a car. That’s when the victim discovers that someone has been using their Social Security number for years to open all types of credit accounts that have gone unpaid, or committed many other types of fraud.  In fact, over 1 million children per year are now victims of synthetic identity fraud.

The elderly are often targeted because they don’t regularly check their bank statements or credit bureau reports, so they’re usually not aware that accounts are being opened using some of their credentials. One of the problems with the elderly as victims is that even if they are aware of the problems caused by synthetic identity theft, they have no idea how to mitigate the damage. Even when they find out that they’re a victim, they don’t share the information with family members or others out of embarrassment.


Different Types of Synthetic Identity Theft

There are several different types of synthetic identity theft, and each one is used in a different manner. For example, one type of synthetic identity theft doesn’t use any real personally identifiable information. There are absolutely no ties or links to a real individual.

Another type of synthetic identity theft is when a cyber crook uses some real personally identifiable information and manipulates it to create a completely new identity. The cybercook may mix the name or the address or some other elements, and then use the new identity to commit fraud.

Yet another type of synthetic identity theft is when a cyber crook combines both real and made-up information to create a new identity. This is called identity compilation, and the cybercriminal uses the new identity to commit various types of fraud. The combination of real and made-up information makes it the hardest to detect, and the cyber crook often is able to commit many different types of financial fraud.


Avoiding Synthetic Identity Fraud

The best way to prevent the damage from synthetic identity fraud is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. But what can be done to prevent someone from becoming a victim?  When a cybercriminal creates an identity using real personal information with data they make up, they need to get access to your personal data, like birthdate, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and of course a Social Security number.

So, where do they get that data? They buy it – from people-search sites like Intelius, Spokeo or US Search, among others. The best way to prevent that from happening to you is to opt out of people-search sites.

Another way that cybercriminals find your personal data is from social media sites, so you should go through all of your social media posts and delete any information or posts about you, your family, your vacation plans, places you like to visit – you get the idea. If you have any concerns at all about what you’ve put on social media – delete it. Never share your personally identifiable information on social platforms.

Many people like to shop online, and part of the application process for online credit is giving out your Social Security number. This could be a big problem if your number is misused, so think twice before revealing it. Also, only shop on secure websites – ones that begin with “https” (the “s” means it’s a secure site). Otherwise, you’re risking the safety of your personal data.

For your added protection, be sure to approve requiring two-factor authentication when going to various sites and apps. It may take extra time, but it’ll be worth it in order to protect your personal data and information from being stolen and used against you.

By following the suggestions listed above, you’ll help avoid becoming a victim of synthetic identity theft.