“Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another individual’s personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”

– (National Criminal Justice Reference Service)

What is the difference between the two?

The difference between the two is the way the information is used.

Identity Theft

Identity theft results when the criminal takes personal information (social security number, name, birthdate) and uses it to make new accounts i.e. medical insurance, file taxes, or apply for jobs. They assume the other person’s identity.

Identity Fraud

Identity fraud occurs when the thief uses the victim’s personal information to commit a crime ranging from using the victims credit card to make a purchase to committing a more serious crime such as giving law enforcement the information of the victim rather than their own. Identity fraud can also occur when the criminal makes up the identity and gives fake information to financial institutions.

Common ways that identity theft/fraud is committed

  1. Looking over people’s shoulders as they punch in their bank card numbers or listening to people give their information over the phone for things such as car rentals or hotel booking.
  2. Searching through garbage for documents with your information and activating “pre-approved” credit cards.
  3. Intercepting mail then redirecting it to the thief’s address.
  4. Your social security number may be stolen by means of
    • Stealing information you provide to an unsecure website, documents at your job or home.
    • Buying information from an inside source such as an employee at a bank, store, or another company that has your information.
    • Theft of the actual Social Security card.

Steps to Take If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Dealing with identity theft can be very overwhelming and upsetting. There is always a counselor/advocate at Victims Resource Center available to help you navigate the steps to report and recover from this crime. Please call 570-823-0765 (Luzerne County), 570-836-5544 (Wyoming County), or 610-379-0151 (Carbon County) to talk to a counselor/advocate.

It is very important to record dates you made phone calls or sent letters to anyone regarding your identity theft. There are four initial steps to take if you suspect your identity has been stolen:

Call the companies that were affected by the identity theft/fraud. Explain to them that someone has stolen your identity and ask that they freeze or close the accounts. Change login usernames, pins, and passwords to all affected accounts. Contact your bank and/or credit card companies and business(s) in which the theft is associated with to report the crime.

Call one of the three credit reporting companies (Equifax 1-800-525-6285, Experian 1-888-397-3742, or TransUnion 1-800-680-7289) to place a fraud alert on your credit file. Check with the company you make a report with to ensure that they will notify the other two credit companies.

After placing a fraud alert, call each individual credit company and explain that you’ve placed a fraud alert and order a free copy of your credit report.

An Identity Theft Report is used to document the crime and can be helpful in getting fraudulent information off your credit report, stop companies from trying to collect debts from the theft, place an extended fraud alert on your credit report, and get information about the accounts opened or misused by the thief. (From the Federal Trade Commission)


There are three steps to completing this report

  1. a. Submit a complaint to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Print out a copy of the report (A.K.A. Identity Theft Affidavit) and bring it your local police station.
  2. b. File a police report about the identity theft and get a copy of the report.
  3. c. Attach the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to the police report to make a complete Identity Theft Report.
In cases of medical identity theft…

If you have received medical bills for medical care or prescriptions you did not collect, a notice saying you’ve reached your limit for medical insurance, denial of insurance because your records show you have a condition that you do not have, etc. then you should follow the four initial steps listed above.

In addition:

  • Contact your health insurance to notify them of the theft.
  • You also have the right to obtain your medical records and review them.
  • Highlight errors on your medical files, make copies, and send a copy to the medical facility and include a copy of your Identity Theft Report with it.
  • Send via certified mail and ask for a receipt upon delivery.
  • Use the website below for additional information.



Scam artists are especially drawn to elders as they tend to have substantial savings, own their homes, and have excellent credit. Seniors are inclined to be nicer on the phone and are less likely to report being tricked making them prime targets for scammers. When elders do report they often have difficulties remembering the details of the scam. Scam artists know this which is why seniors are often the targets of scams. Some common scams that seniors may experience are as follows:

Medical insurance fraud occurs when a customer or medical provider bills private insurance or Medicare for services or medical equipment that was not needed or provided. Make sure to read forms to make sure that you know what is being billed to insurance and NEVER sign a blank form. Do not do business with door-to-door salesmen who say that medical equipment or services are free. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Be careful when purchasing medications online. Do not buy from unlicensed distributors or anywhere that does not require a prescription from your physician. Online pharmacies that are safe to buy from will have a seal of approval from the Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the United States called the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS).

It is important to remember that if the deceased is being cremated that embalming and a casket is not required. Also, educate yourself about what fees are basic with the funeral service and what are additional fees. Review information and contract before signing anything and do not let anyone pressure you into buying things that you do not want or need. If in doubt, bring a friend or relative to provide support and assist you in making decisions.

Seniors, especially women living alone, are targets for telemarketers. If you get a phone call from a telemarketer, ask for more information about the company. If caller is legitimate he or she will be happy to provide you with information about their company or charity. You can check out these organizations on the Better Business Bureau (https://www.bbb.org/ ), or the National Fraud Information Center (http://www.fraud.org/home ) to see whether they are legitimate or not. Remember that scammers try to play on your emotions to make quick decisions. A legit business or charity will understand that you may need to research or think about a purchase or donation. See “Additional Resources” to get web links for sites that will allow you to restrict telemarketers from calling your phone and research the legitimacy of charitable organizations. – (www.fbi.gov)

Ways to Keep Your Information Safe

In the event of identity theft or fraud occurring, it may be helpful to have the information listed on any stolen documents. It is important to make front and back copies of all your personal identification documents such as credit/debit cards, social security cards, driver license, passport, state issued ID’s, birth certificate, marriage certificates, death certificates, major purchases documents (mortgages, car purchases, student loans, etc.). Keep these copies in a secure place such as a safe and away from the originals. This is helpful so you have all the information listed on these documents including phone numbers, account numbers, and instructions on what to do if stolen.

Keep your social security card secure and only give out your S.S. number when absolutely necessary.

Shred papers (receipts, bank statements, credit card offers, etc.) and cards containing any personal information to keep dumpster divers from obtaining your information.

Only use private, secure Wi-Fi networks (such as your home network) when using websites that have personal information i.e. online banking or bill pay. Public Wi-Fi networks such as networks at coffee shops, books stores, restaurants, or any other place where people who you do not know are using the same Wi-Fi network are not safe.

Watch out for “shoulder surfers”, people who stand and watch you put your debit pin in, listen to your conversations about your accounts, watch your computer while you online shop, etc.

Be careful with apps on your cell phone. Many apps save log in information and open directly to your personal accounts. This makes it easy for someone to go into your cell phone and obtain your personal information.

Collect your mail everyday and be mindful of billing cycles. If you do not receive a bill when it is normally due, contact the billing company.

Order a yearly credit report and review any newly opened accounts.

Additional Resources

See a list of websites available to assist you in your identity theft recovery. A counselor can help you navigate the process.