Not all that long ago, many of us thought we only had to watch our credit cards to avoid ID theft. If the crooks didn't get the numbers on our plastic, we thought, they couldn't live it up and go on a wild shopping spree like the one in the movie "Identity Thief."
But ID theft scams are all over the map, both in terms of geography and kinds of fraud, according to Federal Trade Commission data.
In many states - including Michigan, Kentucky, California, Texas and elsewhere - the largest area for ID theft complaints involves fraud relating to government documents or benefits.
Maybe, someone without medical insurance steals your identity to get health-care insurance, said Peter Schoenrock, senior vice president for management at Equifax.
Or an ID thief can steal information to falsely apply for jobless claims, he said. Or fake IDs are used to create fake tax returns that are packed with lucrative tax breaks, such as the education credits or the Earned Income Tax Credit, to create generous tax refunds for criminals.
No, you don't want to leave your credit cards easily in view. But pay attention to your other paperwork, too. You'd be shocked where you'd spot a Social Security number just casually tossed around in your own house.
Snowbirds with winter homes in Florida may want to be even more cautious about their Medicare cards, bank statements and other ID when heading south. Florida ranks No. 1 for ID theft among 50 states, the Federal Trade Commission says. Georgia is No. 2 and California No. 3 on the FTC Consumer Sentinel report's list of states with the highest per capita rates of identity theft.
Arizona ranks eighth highest in identify theft, the report says.
Equifax - which launched the IdentityProtection.com site to give an in-depth look at ID theft - says areas that have had surges in unemployment or foreclosures may be at more risk for ID theft.
In some cases, some people may feel desperate for cash and be more willing to hand over the Social Security number of a child to someone who is going to create a fake tax return. Or they might be more willing to participate in other ID theft scams if they think they can get quick cash and not get caught.
Some scams that ID crooks use:
• The fake landlord. Spot a great deal on a vacation condo? Maybe a super price on a dream house? Housing scams have been popular in Michigan and elsewhere. Consumers have lost deposit money - and sensitive information that can be used for ID theft - when agreeing to a rental property scam and they don't realize they've been scammed until they go on vacation. "You arrive at the rental property. They greet you at the door and they have no idea what you're talking about," said Adam Levin, chair of Identity Theft 911.
Craigslist.com warns consumers not to agree to credit or background checks for a job or housing until actually meeting an interviewer or landlord in person.
• The free prize that pops up on your cellphone. The FTC took action earlier this year against marketers that sent unwanted text messages offering "free" gift cards. Once spammers have your personal information, it can be sold to marketers or even end up in the hands of ID thieves.
• Watch your child's ID. The most stolen piece of identification from a child is a Social Security number, and sometimes it's a family member or friend who commits this crime, said Dianne Shovely, vice president at Comerica Bank in Auburn Hills, Mich. Keep birth certificates and information that contains a child's Social Security number, such as your tax return, carefully locked away.
3 WAYS TO AVOID ID THEFT
• Shred papers, especially those with your Social Security number on them.
• Take extra care with your information during times of life-changing events, the birth of a child, a divorce or a death in the family. Experts say fraud is more likely to take place when people are vulnerable. Pay attention on vacation or during a big move to a new house, too.
• If something sounds odd, it probably is odd. Take time to look up some potential scams. See www.onguardonline.gov