Be Scam Smart: Synthetic Identity Theft

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What Is Synthetic Identity Theft?

According to a 2023 Thompson Reuters article, synthetic identity theft has become the world's fastest-growing form of fraud, surpassing even credit card fraud. Fraudulent identities are now being used in various criminal activities, including romance scams, money laundering, illegal arms sales, and terrorism. So, what exactly is synthetic identity theft?

This type of identity theft involves taking legitimate Personally Identifiable Information (PII), such as a Social Security Number (SSN), from people that may be homeless, deceased, or children and using that information to create a fake identity. Over time, the scam artist builds credit for this identity by making regular payments on a credit card. Eventually, they decide to go on a massive spending spree and then vanish, resulting in significant losses for entities that accepted the fraudulent credit card payments. This is in addition to the unfortunate and negative impact to the identity that was stolen.

Organized criminal groups highly covet PII and treat this data as a commodity. For example, Social Security Numbers compromised in data breaches are often sold for as little as a dollar and are typically packaged in groups of hundreds or thousands of SSNs. This allows criminals to create fraudulent identities in bulk with relative ease. Considering that each Social Security Number used to commit synthetic identity fraud could represent thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars, it is no wonder why a criminal would attempt this type of fraud.

The following may help you know if you are a victim of synthetic identity theft:

  1. You receive mail for new loans or deposit accounts that you did not apply for.
  2. When you review your credit report, you see several applications or even open accounts for loans you are unaware of.

Some steps that you can take to prevent or recover from being a victim of synthetic identity theft include:

  1. Review your social security number use with by requesting form SSA-7004.
  2. Review your credit report for any unfamiliar activity. A free report can be found by visiting
  3. Report any fraud you encounter at or with your local law enforcement.
  4. File an identity theft affidavit with the FTC at
  5. Dispute fraudulent transactions that are discovered with the impacted companies.