Consumers can never let down their guard when it comes to protecting their identities. The variety of identity fraud scams seems to keep growing.

“Amazingly, identity theft and subsequent identity fraud flourish in a virtual digital space where criminal impostors can use any sort of manipulation to influence the consumer,” says John Buzzard, lead analyst, fraud and security, at Javelin Strategy & Research.

7 common ID theft scams

Here is a sampling of common ways scammers steal identities and use them for gain, usually of a financial nature.

1. The gift card grift

Gift cards are a fraudster’s favorite payment method. Since 2018, consumers have lost nearly $245 million to gift card scams, with a median loss per person of $840, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

There are many scams involving gift cards. One common trick identity thieves use is the fake giveaway.

You get a text or email from a well-known store or organization saying you’ve won a gift card. But to collect the gift card, you must provide more contact information, click on a website or take a short survey that asks questions about your finances or other personally sensitive details.

The thief steals your identity, rips you off and could also sell your data on the dark web, which compounds the problem.

2. Fake emails

“Phishing” emails look as if they come from a legitimate source like your bank, a retailer or government agency. Phishing emails often contain dangerous software called malware that can be used to steal healthcare records, passwords and other personally identifying data.

Getting hooked by a phishing email can lead to all sorts of identity fraud. Phishing increased exponentially during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when millions of people started working from home, says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nationwide nonprofit that helps consumers, businesses and governments minimize the risk and impact of identity theft.

“We had this tectonic shift in 2020 with how we were living our lives, and it was unfamiliar territory for a lot of folks. … The scramble for people to try to get set up in a remote work environment, all the things coming into your inbox that used to involve a personal interaction – (ID thieves) took advantage of that confusion,” she says.

Phishing accounted for about one-third of cyberattacks in 2021, according to the ITRC’s annual data breach report.

3. Medicare card ‘verification’

Data compromises in the health care industry affected over 28 million people in 2021, according to the ITRC.

Older Americans are being called, emailed or even visited in person by scammers claiming to be from Medicare. They offer health services and/or new Medicare cards with microchips if seniors will verify their Medicare identification number.

Seniors who fall for this ploy are likely to discover that their Medicare information is being used by an imposter to get healthcare services or to bill Medicare and collect money.

Guard your Medicare ID number and ignore calls, emails and visitors purporting to have something to offer you in exchange for it.

4. Fake online shopping sites

You may see an ad for something you like on social media or while surfing the web. You click on the ad, are directed to an online store that looks legitimate and start shopping. You pay by credit card, or you may be asked to pay by money order, a preloaded card or wire transfer.

You never receive the merchandise or you receive something inferior to what you expected. Attempts to reach the seller are unsuccessful. Next thing you know, the “store” is gone and identity thieves have your credit card number or other personal information.

Beware of social media-based stores that are very new with prices that are too good to be true. Be suspicious if they ask for payment by wire transfer or other immediate means and if terms and conditions, dispute resolution and contact information is scarce or nonexistent

5. Tech support scams

These identity ripoffs usually begin with a phone call or pop-up warning on your device pretending to be from a legitimate tech company such as Microsoft. The caller or pop-up warns that your computer has a virus or some other problem that needs to be fixed.

You might allow the tech imposter to remotely access your computer and then pay them for a problem that never existed.

Legitimate tech businesses do not contact people to tell them they have a computer problem nor do they send pop-ups asking you to call a phone number. Be suspicious if you are asked to pay using a gift card. Use only someone you know and trust to fix your computer.

6. Child identity fraud

Few adults monitor their children’s credit reports, but it’s a savvy thing to do. Children are at risk of identity theft because their Social Security numbers are not associated with a credit history, which makes it easier to create fraudulent IDs using their information.

Also, the theft might not be discovered until the child is old enough to apply for a job, a student loan or an apartment.

Alarm bells should go off if you get debt collection letters or phone calls, preapproved credit offers, traffic tickets, overdue tax notices or IRS letters saying you can’t claim your child as a dependent because their Social Security number is on someone else’s return, or other inappropriate communications citing a child’s personal identity information.

7. Home title theft

Identity theft can lead to home title theft, a crime that typically strikes unsuspecting seniors with a lot of home equity and people with second homes or rental property.

Using a stolen identity, a thief can forge a deed to make it look as if they own the property. They use the forged deed to get a home equity loan or a cash-out refinance. Of course, they do not repay the loan and the property goes into foreclosure. Or, they may set their sights on an empty home and sell it without the rightful owner’s knowledge.

Carry title insurance, which protects against any claims or liens against a property. Monitor your credit report and stay on top of bills for properties you own. Be suspicious if bills stop coming or if there are changes in bills.

Bottom line

Identity theft is the crime of stealing someone’s personally identifying information, like a driver’s license number or Social Security number. Identity fraud is the crime of using the stolen identity for any number of purposes: to get a passport, buy a car or intercept someone’s tax refund, for example.

Fortunately, there are good resources like the FTC, ITRC, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other websites where information and assistance can be found.

Use trusted resources to educate and arm yourself against identity theft scams.