Synthetic Identity Theft: “Fake” Identity Theft has “Unreal” Consequences

You know the difference between synthetic turf and real grass, so what’s the difference between identity theft and synthetic identity theft?

It’s on the rise and even harder to track down than “true identity theft.”
We associate synthetic with “fake” or ‘unreal.” Well, as if good ole’ homegrown identity theft wasn’t bad enough, experts are tracking a new trend of identity theft labeled as “synthetic identity theft.” This technique used by identity thieves to “fake” an identity has quite “unreal” consequences.
In the past identity thieves have used theft or scams to collect the information needed to steal and use someone else’s identity to obtain credit, create fraudulent credit accounts or charges or even obtain medical care. In these instances, identity thieves are using a real identity, like perhaps yours, but in a fraudulent manner.
In synthetic identity theft, identity thieves are actually creating identities synthetically. They may be using bits of pieces of people’s identity pieced together with a fictional identity. Often this mish mash of information is used in places where credit checks aren’t as vigilant. Synthetic identity thefts vary in technique but thieves may use a name similar to a victims, along with victim’s social security number or even part of it and a true address only to quickly create a change of address. The end result is that in synthetic identity theft thieves are creating new identities with a combination of authentic and fake information to order to establish new accounts with fictional identities.
Consider this synthetic identity theft scenario:
Some uses your social security number on a credit application. Even though you are checking your credit report regularly, this doesn’t show up. Why? Because the thieves will be using your real social security number and teaming it up with another name.
According to Chris Jay Hoofnagle from the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Center and a senior fellow with the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California, “combinations” often don’t show up on credit reports.
Here’s real example of synthetic identity theft:
One victim of synthetic identity theft did notice what he thought was an “error” on his credit report. The credit report included an extra social security number, which was off from his own social security number by only one digit. It was accompanied by along a new address and a phone bill. Would a credit bureau grant credit with an incorrect social security number and still match it to a person’s name? Apparently yes. So no one should assume that something “extra” is a harmless error. All discrepancies should be reported and pursued.
The Synthetic Identity Theft Picture by Numbers:
*All forms of identity theft are escalating but synthetic identity took the lead over “real-name” identity theft seven years ago.
*Over 85% of fraud events (such as opening accounts or doing a change of address) are part of a synthetic identity theft.
*Synthetic identity theft is less often reported because there is no clear victim and credit agencies have to write off the loss.
*While the losses are difficult to define, experts estimate that synthetic identity theft accounts for 80% of credit card fraud and at least 20% of credit charge offs by businesses.
*Synthetic identity theft is less often reported because there is no clear victim and credit agencies have to write off the loss.
Consumers all pay for synthetic identity theft, whether as victims harassed by creditors, or because as consumers we all absorb the losses and cost of fraud.
A Sensational Synthetic Identity Theft Story:
Remember this synthetic identity theft story? While the outcome was sensational the “hints” along the way make this story worthy of repeating.
Margaret Harrison received a new bankcard in the mail with an imposter’s photo. The bankcard “Pablo” had using her information expired and a new card was mailed to her address. The reason Harrison had chosen to go with a photo bankcard was that she was once denied unemployment claims because records showed she was working. In another instance, a bank teller had looked up her account by her social and not her account number and asked if her name was “Pablo.” Despite all of these “clues,” Harrison kept checking her credit report and it remained clean and clear.
Are you ready to defend yourself?
Much of the same wisdom of protecting yourself from identity theft applies. The first and foremost, and most successful steps are preventative ones like smart e-mail and on-line practices, shredding and always questioning the necessity of sharing your personal identifying information whether in writing, by phone or on-line.
However, synthetic identity theft requires even more vigilance.
*Recognize and report any discrepancies on your credit report, even a slight alteration of your name or social security numbers or address.
*Even if your credit report is clean, pay attention to the telltale signs like in Harrison’s case. A photo bankcard could protect you in more ways than planned.
*Check your Social Security Benefits statements that arrive a few months before your birthday each year. If you see additional income listed, don’t think this an error that could entitle you to additional benefits. Someone could have used your social security number for employment and you don’t want to be left with the consequences or liability.
Note: Even if you don’t see additional benefits, unfortunately this doesn’t mean that someone hasn’t used your social security number to obtain employment. Sometimes unmatched information goes into such a file.
*Evaluate yourself and your risk and consider an identity theft program. Many of the tactics used by identity theft programs like can be done yourself but be realistic about whether or not you are willing to take the time and effort or whether it may be better to pay someone a small fee to watch your back.
Of course educating yourself on identity theft, and synthetic identity theft, is the best defense, so congratulations readers. There is lots of talk about developments in synthetic intelligence but to fight synthetic identity theft, we recommend research and good ole’ common sense.


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One Response to “Synthetic Identity Theft: “Fake” Identity Theft has “Unreal” Consequences”

  1. debi Says:

    Please note that employers will continue to employ people who are using “invalid” SSN numbers. The employers put yOUR SSN on their W2. So the employee can then take their W2 with YOUR SSN and apply for a payday loan, buy a house, vehicle, obtain credit cards,etc. for years without your knowledge, until it is too late to correct the years of Robert Guenterberg and read our story..