What is Synthetic Identity Theft?
Synthetic identity theft is when a criminal creates a fake identity instead of stealing an existing one. To create a new identity, fraudsters use a mix of real and fake information to create a new identity. This includes a mix of real and fake social security numbers along with other personal information such as names, addresses, and birthdates. You may be familiar with common identity theft which involves scammers using your real name, social security number, and other personal data to impersonate you. Synthetic identity theft, however, is when a criminal mixes valid information with fake information to create an entirely new identity.
How to Protect Against Synthetic Identity Theft
A synthetic identity can be undetected for months. Fraudsters use synthetic identities to receive employment, file fake tax returns, receive Medicare, and other fraud like applying for and charging up lines of credit. Here is how you can protect yourself.
1. Prevent your social security number from falling into the wrong hands.
- Leave your Social Security card at home, preferably in a locked safe. Memorize your number so you can avoid taking your card with you for a specific purpose.
- Make sure to shred all documents with your Social Security number. Store your important documents safely and securely. If you’re a Central Bank customer, use Online Banking to securely access your statements and notices. All electronic documents are exact replicas of the paper versions and are stored in online banking for up to seven years.
- Know who really needs your Social Security number and who doesn’t. Remember to never give out your information in unsolicited calls or emails. If you receive a phone call from an unknown number, feel free to answer, but keep your guard up. If you receive an email informing you of a situation that seems too good to be true, or is asking for personal information or for you to click a link, be aware this is likely fraud. Fraudsters attempt different ways of tricking you into giving up your personal information.
2. Review statements and reports for yourself and children
- Monitor your credit reports regularly to keep an eye out for unusual activity. If you are a parent, make sure to closely watch your children’s credit reports as well. With synthetic identity theft, criminals are likely to target those who don’t use credit and don’t have a credit history. As a result, children or infants’ information can be tempting for fraudsters, making it important to regularly monitor their information as well.
- A good resource for checking your credit file is annualcreditreport.com. You’re able to access your credit report once a year from the three main credit bureaus: EquiFax, TransUnion, and Experian.
- Visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for more information on disputing an error on your credit report.
- Review your annual Social Security statement. It’s a possibility synthetic identities can be used to obtain employment, so a fraudster's income could be shown on your earnings statement. Make sure your income matches the amount on your statement. If you experience a discrepancy, contact the Social Security Administration immediately.
3. Monitor your mail
- If you receive mail addressed to someone else but includes your address, it could be a sign that creditors are trying to reach the fraudster. Your address might be mixed with the information the thief is using to create a synthetic identity.