When we think of identity theft, we might think of a simple matter of having someone use our credit cards or open a new line of credit in our names. But identity theft just isn’t that simple. There are actually a wide variety of types of theft a criminal can commit while using your personally identifiable information, including government, medical, criminal, and internet identity theft, as well as some very unique, complex forms of financial identity theft.

The more complex types of financial identity theft can have serious ramifications, even criminal ones, as they carry over into some of those other forms of ID theft. For example, the thief might use your financial information to apply for and receive student loans, leaving you with a tremendous amount of debt, fraud committed against a government funded university, and unreported income on your taxes. If your identity was stolen to order checks on a newly opened checking account, your good name could be held in association with bad check charges, which is an illegal offense. If your financial identity was used to secure a loan, such as being the cosigner on a new automobile purchase, you may find yourself receiving collection notices for a car you know nothing about, possibly in a part of the country you’ve never even seen.

Financial identity theft isn’t always as simple as finding out from your credit card company’s fraud department that someone used your card number to make an unauthorized purchase, but fortunately, there are now a wide variety of resources to help you in any situation that arises. This ITRC Fact Sheet on Financial Identity Theft will give you excellent tips to get started righting the wrongs and clearing your record, and thanks to donations and support, the ITRC is available by phone or email 24-hours a day, seven days a week, to help victims of suspected identity theft.

Of course, preventing financial identity theft is always a better option, and here are some important tips that could make the difference between having your information protected, and having your good name smeared.

1. Never share your personal information with anyone who contacts you. If you initiated the contact—say, by calling your bank or credit card company, and the representative wants your data for verification purposes—you’re still free to tell the person that you do not give out your Social Security number over the phone, but that you’ll be happy to provide him with different information, such as your phone number or address on file. Remember, though, if you received the call, you definitely do not want to share your information. Hang up immediately if someone requests your data, and contact your financial institution yourself using a verified phone number.

2. Make sure to shred all documents you no longer need, even ones that you’re not sure could lead to your identity being stolen. It only takes a few pieces of the puzzle for a thief to construct a new identity for you. Destroy anything that looks like a bank, credit card, medical, insurance, or Social Security statement, as well as anything that contains an account number, before discarding it.

3. It’s important to know who already has access to your information, and decide whether or not they need it. If you have open accounts that you never use, you might consider closing them in order to have your information taken off of available servers in case of a data breach or other hacking event.

4. Finally, remember to monitor your credit reports closely, and report any suspicious activity on your accounts to your financial institution immediately. In the event of identity theft of any kind, you must file a police report in order to protect yourself from any consequences that may arise.

If you have questions about identity theft, or just want to get more information, please call our toll-free 24-hour call center at 888-400-5530 to speak to a Victim Advisor. Or, you can go to our website idtheftcenter.org and read Fact Sheets & Solutions on a variety of topics related to identity theft, data breaches, and scams.

Image Credit: Don Hankins via Flickr.