synthetic identity theftWhen it comes to identity theft, many people think that identity thieves lift names, addresses and other identifying information and simply use that information to pretend to be that person. While this is somewhat true, that’s not how all identity theft cases work. In the last few years, identity thieves have taken to creating identities from scratch by combining tiny bits of real information from various victims with fictitious information. This form of identity theft, dubbed synthetic identity theft, has become the predominant form of identity theft today. Continue reading to learn how thieves pull this feat off and how to deal with synthetic identity theft.

How does synthetic identity theft work?

You would think that creating an entire identity from almost nothing would be extremely difficult, but that’s not true — it’s surprisingly easy. In some cases, all thieves need is a real social security number and a fake name. Sometimes thieves might not fabricate any information and just combine real names with random but legitimate social security numbers. For example, they’ll use Person A’s social security number with Person B’s name. This type of identity theft works because credit agencies and lenders don’t often cross-reference social security numbers with other identifiers such as names or addresses, which is why child identity theft is relatively easy to do and can remain undetected for years. In fact, many victims of synthetic identity theft are children who have yet to develop their credit profile.

What are the consequences of synthetic identity theft?

In some ways, synthetic identity theft is worse than the more familiar true name identity theft, when someone uses your name, social security number and other personal information to commit fraud. While true name identity theft could just as easily damage a victim’s credit, synthetic identity theft can result in what’s known as a fragmented credit file. This file emerges from subfiles or additional credit files that are associated with a specific social security number. If an identity thief uses a real social security number, or even part of a real social security number, it’s possible for their synthesized identity to become associated with the real credit file under their real social security number. Similarly, related social security numbers can be associated with that file due to partial matching. In this way, the consequences of synthetic identity theft can be a lot more challenging to alleviate than those of true name identity theft. While people who experience true name identity theft can have false or unauthorized credit accounts tied to their credit reports, synthetic identity theft victims can have entire identities tied to their credit report.

How can I deal with synthetic identity theft?

The good news is that synthetic identity theft can be dealt with in much the same way that regular identity theft is dealt with. Regularly checking your credit reports for errors is one of the best tools you have for fighting the phenomenon, although it may take a while longer for synthetic fraud to show up on your reports since the information is taken from subfiles. When you’re checking your credit reports, be sure to look for aliases that you do not recognize — if you don’t know, your credit has a whole section for this. If you spot any, it may be a sign that you’re a victim of synthetic identity theft and you’ll want to follow the steps detailed in this post to alleviate it. Additionally, opting for identity theft protection could help you spot such fraud, especially if you use a service that offers real-time monitoring for your entire family, because you’ll be alerted as soon as the fraud pops up on your account. Services like LifeLock and Identity Guard both excel at providing these features.

Read our identity theft protection reviews to learn more about these services and find the best option for you and your family. Also, for more information about identity theft and the ways it can affect you, keep reading our identity theft protection blog.

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