What Does it Mean to Have Your Identity Stolen?

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a crime that occurs if someone uses your personally identifying information to open new accounts in your name or pose as you in formal documents. Personally identifiable information can include your social security number, address, and birthdate. There are several common ways criminals can access your personally identifiable information:

Stealing Purses or Wallets

The cards in your wallet and the information on your driver’s license can provide enough information to steal your identity. If your wallet is stolen, immediately contact:

  • Your local police department.
  • The three major credit bureaus: Equifax (888-766-0008), Experian (888-397-3742), and TransUnion (800-680-7289).
  • The National ID Theft Clearinghouse.

Password Phishing

Phishing is when someone sends you a fake email that looks like it’s coming from a retailer or bank you know, but the links send you to a fake website where criminals trick consumers into entering personally identifiable information. To prevent phishing:

  • Beware of emails addressed to “Customer” or “User” instead of your name
  • If you get an email from a bank or retailer with a link in it and it doesn’t look right, do not click on the link. Type in the URL to visit the site directly.
  • Trust your gut. If it doesn’t look real, it probably isn’t.
  • One more related tip: Never send personal information through email.

Mail Theft / Dumpster Diving

Yes, there are thieves who will go through garbage looking for information. Others will steal mail from unsecured mailboxes. Collect your mail as quickly as possible if the box isn’t locked or consider a post office box for financial mail. And make sure to shred any mail you discard if it has your social security number or any other personally identifiable information on it.

Gas Pump / ATM Skimmers

These are devices that fit over the card slot on point-of-sale terminals like gas pumps or ATMs. The goal of these devices is to copy your card's information as you use it. A couple tips:

  • Consistently use the same locations for cash withdrawals and to buy gas so you know what their terminals normally look like.
  • If a gas pump terminal or ATM looks odd or bulkier than usual, tug on it. A skimmer will sometimes come off or be loose. If you notice a skimmer, alert management immediately and call the police.
  • Always shield the keypad with your hands while entering your PIN.


Thieves have developed spyware and virus codes to capture information you type at your computer. As you type, the malware captures your passwords, responses to security questions, account numbers, etc. which are usually encrypted. The most effective way to combat this is to keep your security computer's software up-to-date, accepting patches and updates.

Stephanie Hay, Customer Advocate

Steph Hay is an Ohio native who loves video games, CrossFit, and BBC programs. She’s also a journalist who pioneered content-first design and Lean Content testing, two low-risk methods for proving traction before building a product. These days she’s in Virginia at Capital One, where she is Head of Content Strategy and runs “What’s Up Thursday,” a weekly share-out for the entire design team of 250 people across 11 locations.

This article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to provide medical or legal advice, or to indicate the availability or suitability of any product or service for your unique circumstances. Capital One does not provide, endorse, or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The third parties listed are solely responsible for their products and services, and all trademarks listed are the property of their respective owners.

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