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Identity theft is the unauthorized collection of personal information and its subsequent use for criminal reasons such as to open credit cards and bank accounts, redirect mail, set up cellphone service, rent vehicles and even get a job. These actions can mean severe consequences for the victim, who will be left with bills, charges and a damaged credit score.
There are many ways in which an individual's identity can be stolen, but people may be particularly vulnerable to this crime online, where savvy criminals can gain access to personal information through a number of avenues. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, approximately nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. This theft is increasingly being perpetrated electronically.
Identity thieves have a number of avenues for stealing personal information via electronic means. These include:
There are some steps consumers can take to protect their identities, including ensuring that any transactions they make online use secure data encryption, limiting the amount of personal information they share online, remaining alert to phishing scams and keeping a close eye on their banking and credit card statements.