Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

I will be sharing tips all week on how to guard against identity theft and what to do if you are a victim of identity theft.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing consumer scams in America. It’s difficult to know exactly how many victims exist, but the numbers are staggering. A nationwide survey by Javelin Research estimates that 8.1 million adult Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2010. Identity theft topped the FTC's list of consumer complaints again in 2010, accounting for 19 percent of the 6.1 million complaints.

What is Identity Theft?
An identity thief (someone who steals your checks, your Social Security number, or other personal identification) uses your information to obtain credit in your name or to commit a crime. The FTC says:

The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make—or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.

How Identity Thieves Steal Your Identity
Most identity thieves get your information by stealing a purse or wallet, or by stealing check or credit card information out of your mail. The identity thief is almost always a stranger (the opposite is true when it comes to child identity theft). Most victims never find out how the identity thief got his or her information.


Dumpster_divingOld-Fashioned Theft: A lost or stolen wallet.
Dumpster Diving and Mail Theft: Thieves rummage through your trash, recycling and mail for documents containing your information.
Phone Scams: Callers pose as  relatives in need of help, representatives from government agencies, security staff from credit card companies, you name it.  You might also receive an automated message instructing you to enter your account information or Social Security number.
Shoulder Surfing: Someone looks over your shoulder while you fill out a form, login to your laptop or enter your PIN at an ATM.


  • Email (Phishing) and Text (Smishing) Scams: Scammers send an email  or text message that appears toHands_on_keyboard come from a bank, online auction site, social media site or just about anywhere, and convince you to click on a link to a Web site that asks you to enter account or password information.
  • Lookalike Web Sites
  • Skimming: Skimming devices are intended to be legitimately used to read the magnetic strips on your card, but scammers have covertly placed them over the real thing at cash registers and ATMs. Handheld skimmers may be used by dishonest restaurant employees. Criminals use the information to empty your account or create counterfeit cards with your name and account information.
  • Social Media: Crooks use social media sites, too. You may provide personal information as part of your profile on a social media site or while answering a quiz or survey.
  • Data Breaches
  • Peer-to-Peer File Sharing: Scammers search for users who accidentally configured their software to share sensitive financial documents stored on their computers.
  • Malware/Viruses: Scammers find ways to convince you to click on a link or open an attachment that will then cause malware to be downloaded to your computer.


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