Identity theft comes in a wide array of forms and shapes, and it's a constantly evolving field as new scams are developed for different purposes.

The most common variety of identity theft is financial identity theft. A thief tries to corroborate stolen credit card information with either a social security number or mailing address, to persistently use the card to make purchases before it gets shut down. Financial identity theft costs credit card companies and consumers over 70 billion dollars each year, with the average consumer hit for roughly $10,000 worth of fraud; in terms of raw dollar amounts, identity theft has cost the country more than the war in Iraq has – and ruined far more lives. It's not just credit cards, too. Something as simple as a calling card or your utility bill can be enough for someone to set up fraudulent accounts in your name, including new credit cards, auto loans and mortgages on your home, or lease an apartment.

Criminal identity theft is a variation on that comic book staple of having a "secret identity". As a way to shield themselves if other identity theft comes home to roost, criminals will prepare entire secondary and tertiary identities, and try to use them to vanish into the woodwork; in general, this involves hijacking someone else's identity – they'll get a false driver's license with their photograph and someone else's name, use that other person's social security number, etc. It's a bolthole and often times, the first you'll hear of it is when you get a citation for a crime you didn't commit. More pervasive is the common practice of teenagers and college students to get a fake ID to get into clubs and bars, or using a set of stolen license plates on a car to steal fuel in a "drive-off" at the gas pump; since most gas stations will use security cameras to record the plates, you can see where this leads, and this is just the tip of the ice berg.

Perhaps the most disturbing example of identity theft is called "cloning" – now, this isn't about making copies of sheep. It's doing a pervasive duplication of identity data to get either a passport, or driver's license, often to get access to critical data. It sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy novel or spy movie, and it's still rare…but it's becoming more and more common, particularly when identity thieves can get the names and social security numbers of small children. This sort of identity theft can go undetected for years, as a recent case of a student who discovered that her name and social security number had racked up 2.5 million dollars in debt when she first applied for college loans can attest. Usually the motive isn't financial – it's anonymity. Someone who's been through a bankruptcy, or is an illegal immigrant, or even just a victim of abuse, they just want to look respectable while they make a new life. Unfortunately, they're coasting on your reputation…and it's hard to track until they slip up, or the authorities come looking.

Businesses can also be victimized by identity theft. Tenants sell off things belonging to their landlord to get a quick influx of cash, or can use a borrowed swipe card and ID to get access to secure or confidential information. Face purchase orders and invoices can be run – one well known scam of this nature ran for years, with false invoices being generated and MAILED to a company, where they were sent to the shipping department and filled, shipping free product out where the thief sold it on eBay. Like all identity theft, it's contingent on seeming normal and natural and not raising suspicion.

Forewarned is fore-armed. Be aware of the kinds of identity theft out there, and take appropriate cautions.

Author's Bio: 

Leon Edward provides free information online on identity theft prevention, internet privacy and FREE Identity Theft Prevention Checklist at his website

Leon Edward is an Independant Associate of Identity Theft Shield (tm.) where you can find protection for your family at