The Better Business Bureau is warning the public about “synthetic” identity theft.
The BBB says the technique involves scammers combining information from multiple individuals to invent a false identity. It’s said to be so hard to detect that you might be a victim and not even know it.
Specifically, the BBB says scammers pull together stolen Social Security or Social Insurance numbers, the address of an abandoned property, and a fake name and birth date.
Using that information, experts say scammers apply for a credit card. Initially, they will be declined since they don’t have a credit profile, but this creates a record of a “person” that doesn’t actually exist.
Next, scammers add that “person” to one or more legitimate accounts and over time, the crooks build up a credit history until they can qualify for large lines of credit.
Once approved for a high line of credit, the BBB says the scammers do what’s called a “bust-out,” meaning the con artists charge their credit cards to the limit, pays nothing, discards the identity and disappears.
If your Social Security or Social Insurance number has been used in one of these schemes, it will be hard to detect. The BBB says negative credit reports will be tied to your SSN, but not your name, phone number, and address, meaning fraud alerts, credit monitoring, and credit freezes won’t stop the scammers or alert you to what is happening.
“However, unpaid debts left by the scammer can affect your ability to take out loans or credit. Also, jilted creditors will eventually track the debts back to the Social Security number and, ultimately, its real owner,” wrote the BBB in a press release.
The BBB offered these tips on how to protect yourself from “synthetic” identity theft:
- Minimize your exposure. Don’t give out your Social Security or Social Insurance number if it isn’t absolutely necessary. When a business, medical office, or individual asks for this information, don’t be afraid to ask them why they need it and how they will protect your personal information.
- Protect your child’s personal information. A child’s identity is appealing to scammers due to their clean, blank slate.
- Keep an eye on your communications. Monitor any mail, phone calls, email, or other communications you receive. Be alert if something arrives out of the blue or doesn’t make sense. If you receive any mail or phone calls regarding you or your child that seem like a red flag, follow up right away