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The Rise of Synthetic Identity Fraud, Account Takeover, and Child Identity Theft


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There’s a reason identity theft hit record-high levels in 2017 when nearly 17 million Americans had their identities compromised. Put simply, crooks are evolving — and so are their tactics. To steal as much as they can from their victims, cybercriminals are increasingly engaging in three activities that might surprise you: synthetic identity fraud, account takeovers, and child identity theft.

The added danger of synthetic identity fraud

Not only is synthetic identity fraud causing havoc throughout the nation, it’s also growing in popularity. Unlike traditional identity theft — where thieves assume the identities of their victims — synthetic identity fraud allows criminals to be anyone they want.

The process is both simple and effective.

Criminals steal personal data like a Social Security number. They then attach that information to a fake profile. By combining real and fictitious elements, crooks make it incredibly difficult for a victim to discover fraud. Many thieves even spend years building up the credit of this fake persona, just for a big payday down the line.

It’s a practice that’s costing businesses big. Synthetic identity theft may account for 5 percent of all uncollected debt. This includes as much as 20 percent of credit losses. Victims are also paying a great price; it can take hundreds of hours to fully reclaim their identity.

Account takeover triples last year

Synthetic identity theft isn’t the only type of fraud growing by leaps and bounds. The number of account takeovers tripled in 2017 — making online fraud 81 percent more prominent than in-person fraud.

The process of account takeover is also quite simple.

A cybercriminal compromises one or more of a victim’s accounts, and then uses that information to open a PayPal or Amazon account in the victim’s name. The thief can now use these “intermediary accounts” to make major purchases.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from account takeover. You can learn about what they are on our blog, How Account Takeovers Happen and What You Can Do to Protect Yourself.

Identity theft on the rise for children

Adults aren’t the only ones affected by identity theft. Last year, conservative estimates say 1 million children had their identities stolen. Making matters worse, nearly two-thirds of them were less than eight years old. That’s because the younger a victim is, the more valuable their data is to cybercriminals.

Criminals are willing to pay a much higher price for a child’s information because it’s a blank slate. It’s highly unlikely a child has bad credit, and it also takes much longer to discover child identity theft, since many years can elapse before the child becomes an adult and applies for loans or credit cards.

This makes children far more likely to be affected by data breaches as well. In households notified their personal information had been compromised, minors were more than twice as likely than adults to become victims of fraud.

For steps you can take to protect your family, see How to Protect Your Child’s Identity.

Time to evolve

With identity thieves constantly evolving, we must also change. For many, this requires a fundamental shift in how we think of identity protection. Monitoring your credit once a month — or worse, not at all— just doesn’t cut it.

We must become as proactive as the thieves who seek to cause us harm. Here are just a few ways you can do that.

  1. When possible, use two-factor authentication for your online accounts. This requires users to not only enter their password, but also a unique code sent via text or email.
  1. Use an identity protection solution that also monitors and alerts on non-financial accounts like social media. This helps you identify potential account takeover in near-real time.
  1. Educate yourself about the tactics cybercriminals use to steal your personal information. One of the greatest threats lies in phishing, which you can read about in our ebook, Phishing for Dollars: How Identity Theft Is Leaving Businesses and Employees on the Hook.
  1. When considering solutions, ask your employer if they offer identity protection as an employee benefit. If they do, sign up fast! If not, you can send them a link to our ebook, Why Companies Should Care When Employees Have Their Identities Stolen.
  1. Remember, you’re not the only one at risk. You’ll want coverage that protects not only you, but your spouse and dependents as well. Before selecting a family plan, pay close attention to who is covered and for how long. Some identity protection services will stop coverage when a child turns 18.
If you’d like to stay up to date about all things related to identity protection, please subscribe to our blog in the box to your left. Want to learn even more about the world of identity theft? Be sure to visit our Resources page — it’s loaded with great information you can use to build a safer, more-private reality.
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