Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Identity Theft and Privacy Banner

Identity Theft Scams

Identity thieves and fraudsters use a variety of methods to obtain your personal and financial information:


  • Old-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 to 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.
  • Spyware:  Software, usually installed without the consumer’s knowledge, that gives collects information about you or gives a fraudster access to your computer.  Spyware is often looking for personal financial information, like bank or credit account information.  Spyware can be installed when you click on suspicious links.
  • Lookalike websites
  • 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.