Identity theft is a growing problem as the digital world becomes a bigger part of our daily lives. Even though not all forms of identity theft take place online, the theft that occurs in the physical world can help criminals gain access to financial accounts online.

While obtaining identity theft protection can help make you a less tempting target, you can protect yourself that much better by understanding how thieves gain access to your information in the first place.

Rummaging Through Mailboxes and Trash Cans

If you’re wondering how do thieves steal an identity, consider how you’re sending important documents out of your home or office. In many cases, criminals will look through trash cans or dumpsters to find sensitive information that people have haphazardly thrown away.

All they need is a discarded bank statement or utility bill to gain the information they need to commit theft. In the same way, thieves will watch for outgoing mail, such as a mailbox with the handle upturned.

Once they find uncollected mail, all they have to do is take a bill payment to gain account information and a valid check.

Stealing Your Purse or Wallet

This is especially common at the grocery store because shoppers often have many different things on their minds. They may leave their purse or wallet sitting unattended in their shopping cart as they turn to pick up some food. When they turn back to their cart, the purse or wallet is gone.

Once the thief gets away with the wallet, they have everything they need, including driver’s licenses, credit cards, and other personal information. They may even end up with the keys to your home, depending on the contents of the purse or wallet.

The Grand Prize Scam

When considering how do thieves steal an identity, most people assume it’s done through electronic means by clever hackers, but, in truth, the oldest tricks usually work best. Thieves may contact you via phone or email, pretending to be the representative of a large or famous company. They will tell you that you’ve won a new car or a big vacation, but they need identifying information for tax purposes.

They may also tell you that they need your credit card information because you’re required to pay sales tax on the prize. The best way to verify an authentic prize giveaway is to ask for their extension and tell them you’ll call them right back. This can help you verify that you are dealing with a representative of that company.

Skimming ATM and Payment Machines

This is a more sophisticated method of identity theft. It involves placing a machine over an ATM or payment machine interface, so the consumer’s credit or debit card data can be mined.

The machine collects and stores the card number and the user’s PIN, allowing the information to be used for online purchases. Some banks have apps that allow cash withdrawals without a card, so obtaining this information can be used in that way, as well.

That’s Not Your Guardian Angel

If you feel someone looking over your shoulder, chances are good that they’re up to something nefarious. Many thieves will spend their days buying small, cheap items just so they can get in line behind people with big purchases. They know a full shopping basket makes it less likely that you’ll be paying with cash.

As you enter your PIN into the keypad on the payment terminal, they will look over your shoulder to get the information. They may also use this method to get pictures of your card, so they will also have your account number and other data.

Posing as an Account Holder

Once a thief has access to a utility bill, there’s no limit to how much financial data they can collect. The bill already has your home address, phone number, and account number for the utility.

In most cases, that’s all the information they need to prove that they are you to the customer service or billing department. From there, they can request information about your last bill payment. An unwitting representative may give them your credit card number or checking account information.

Gone Phishing

Unless you’re new to the internet and really have no idea of how do thieves steal an identity, you’ve probably heard something about phishing scams. In this type of scam, the thief creates a website that looks identical to the official website you regularly use. It can be created to mimic a banking website or an online shopping site, such as Amazon or Wal-Mart.

In either case, it’s next to impossible to distinguish the fake from the real website, unless you check the URL. Many unsuspecting consumers enter their banking information, thinking they’re making a legitimate transaction. It isn’t until they see unauthorized purchases on their bank statements that they realize something was amiss.

Credit Reporting

A clever thief may only need a few minor details to order your credit report, posing as a potential employer or landlord. If they can get a copy of your credit history, it will give them all of the information they need. Since credit reports concern your financial history, it will list all banks at which you have maintained accounts, as well as any past due debts that are currently outstanding. Each transaction will provide the account numbers that the thief needs.

From there, they can make cash withdrawals and purchases in your name. In many cases, you may not even find out about the breach until you order a credit report for yourself. This is why you should obtain your credit report once a year, and review it for discrepancies. It’s not uncommon to find errors or incidences of identity theft on your credit report.

How to Keep ID Thieves at Bay

You can use this information to better safeguard your personal and financial information, which will reduce the chances that criminals will target you.

Additionally, subscribing to identity theft protection can help you keep your identity and finances safer from thieves. As technology continues to evolve, our ability to protect our sensitive information becomes much more important.