What Criminals Can Use to Commit Identity TheftWith so many data breaches, many people are rightly concerned about identity theft and want to learn how to defend themselves from it. However, there isn’t just one type of identity theft, and the documentation that the identity thief has access to determines what kinds of fraud they can commit. Detailed below are several credentials that identity thieves target, what they can do with them and how you can protect yourself if you have that particular form of identification stolen from you.

Note that if you have any piece of ID stolen from you, it’s a good idea to file a police report. That’s because reporting the theft will potentially help the police with an investigation, and a police report is a valuable record if an identity thief’s actions get you wrongly charged with a crime.

Social security cards

Your social security card is the Holy Grail for identity thieves. Not only because it’s extremely difficult and inconvenient to get a new social security number, but also because it makes it easy to impersonate you in a large variety of situations. With your social security card, identity thieves can open bank accounts and credit cards in your name, get jobs in your name and even claim your tax refund. Armed with only your name and social security number, a thief can still do a lot of these things, which is why you should be very careful with when you give out your social security number.

It’s unfortunate to have your social security number stolen, but the (sort of) good news is that you have a lot of company. The Equifax breach leaked millions of people’s social security numbers — likely yours included — so the steps you can take to protect your identity are things you should probably be doing anyway. Freezing your credit with all three of the major credit bureaus and regularly reviewing your credit reports for items you don’t recognize are good first steps. You should also be on the lookout for any scams following the Equifax breach and think twice before you give out any of your personal information. If you want some extra security, you may want to sign up for an identity theft protection service that will monitor your credit reports for suspicious activity, as well as check for your personal information on the Internet black market, where breached information usually ends up, and note suspicious public records activity in your name.

Driver’s licenses

A stolen driver’s license is mainly valuable for the driver’s license number associated with it. With just that number, a forger can produce fake ID cards that they can sell for all kinds of illegal purposes. Fake IDs can be used by teenagers who want to get into bars and clubs while underage, reckless drivers looking to pin moving violations on other people, criminals banned from air travel trying to get through airport security for domestic flights and those who want to open up or change accounts in your name (such as your wireless account). Identity thieves can also use the personal information printed on your driver’s license, such as your full name, date of birth and address, to socially engineer people you know into giving out more information about you, or make educated guesses on the security questions associated with your financial accounts.

You may notice that none of these crimes require the identity thief to possess the physical driver’s license card itself, just information that’s printed on it. That’s why it’s such a big deal that 10.9 million driver’s licenses were leaked in the Equifax breach. Although there isn’t a way for you to make sure your license is never revealed, you can be more cautious about who may have that information. For example, many businesses require scans of driver’s licenses when customers make returns, so it’s best for you to avoid giving your driver’s license to businesses or organizations unless it’s required by law. If you hear about a data breach happening at a business that has scanned or copied your driver’s license, treat that situation as if your license was stolen. Need some help knowing who has your license? An identity theft protection service that offers public records monitoring, such as Identity Guard, will notify you if your driver’s license is being used to impersonate you. You can also order a copy of your driver record from your state Department of Motor Vehicles for a small fee to see if your license has been used by someone to illegally get out of paying a traffic ticket or any other driving-related issues.


A U.S. passport is one of the most powerful travel documents in the world, granting visa-free entry to 155 countries. Passports are highly sought after by identity thieves, as they can be used to open bank accounts, illegally enter the country and hide someone’s identity from the authorities. Additionally, like driver’s licenses, passports contain personal information that is useful in social engineering. Losing just a copy of your passport is bad, as that copy could be used to create fraudulent passports in the hands of a highly skilled criminal. However, losing your actual passport is extremely serious, as it is much easier for criminals to slightly alter a real passport than it is to create a new one entirely. Thankfully, in the event that your passport is lost or stolen, the State Department’s office can invalidate it if you make a report online or call 1-877-487-2778, as noted on its website.

Medical insurance cards

A lot of people aren’t too careful with their medical insurance cards, despite the fact that medical identity theft is a growing crime. Since insurance cards don’t typically have photos or security features like government-issued ID cards, thieves can easily use your name and health insurance numbers to visit doctors, get prescription drugs and file false insurance claims. Not only can this use up your benefits, but it can also muddy your medical records. Twenty percent of medical identity theft victims get incorrect diagnoses or treatments or even die because of information left by thieves, such as blood type and medication allergies.

Medical identity theft is hard to catch for two reasons. First, about half of all cases of medical identity theft are committed by family members, who may have access to your insurance information even when you think it’s safe. Second, unlike financial institutions, health insurance providers don’t often search for identity theft or alert potential victims. Instead, it’s up to policyholders to make sure their benefits aren’t being used illegally. To do that, make sure you keep an eye out for any Explanation of Benefits letters from your insurance company, which are sent out every time your insurance is used and list all of the benefits the insurance provider claims you were provided. If you receive an Explanation of Benefits letter for a date or procedure you don’t recognize, call your insurance provider and follow the steps detailed by the FTC to correct them.

Identity theft is constantly evolving, but you can keep up with the crooks by following our identity theft protection blog. Also, if you want to be proactive about protecting your identity, consider signing up for an identity theft protection service. Visit our reviews of the best identity theft protection services to learn more.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the companies referenced in this article. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the companies mentioned. NextAdvisor.com may be compensated through advertiser affiliate programs.