Can criminals steal your identity if all they know about you are your name and address? Usually not, especially if those are the only pieces of information that these scammers have.
But what scammers can do is use your name and address to access more of your personally identifiable information, or PII. And if they gain more of this information, such as your birthdate, driver’s license number and Social Security number, criminals might have a far easier time stealing your identity and causing you plenty of financial pain.
What identity thieves can do
Scammers can do plenty once they nab enough of your personally identifiable information. This information, often referred to as PII, is any piece of information that can be used to identity you. PII includes your name, address, birthday, Social Security number, driver’s license number, phone number and other pieces of data that thieves can use to assume your identity.
Once thieves have enough of your PII, they might open credit cards or take out loans in your name. They might use your information to file a tax return in your name, all to steal the income tax refund that should be coming your way. Others might use your information to log onto your online credit card portals or bank accounts, making unauthorized purchases in your name.
Still others might sell your information on the Dark Web to the highest bidders, making a tidy profit as they pass your Social Security number, birthdate, driver’s license number and other personal information to their fellow crooks.
It’s important, then, to protect all your personal information. Even if identity thieves have just your name and address, they can use this information to find more valuable PII.
What can identity thieves do with your name and address?
Though neither your name nor address, or the combination of both, is as valuable to identity thieves as is your Social Security number or driver’s license number, you might be surprised at what scammers can do with these two basic pieces of identification.
Find out even more information about you through public databases: Once they have your name and address, thieves could enter that information into any of several public online databases. These databases can then provide these criminals with additional information on you, including your known phone numbers, employment history, past addresses and divorce and marriage records.
These databases do charge users who want to access this information. But identity thieves are often willing to pay these fairly small fees if it helps them gain the PII they need to steal your identity. The information in these public databases is public record, so there’s little you can do to keep scammers from using your name and address to find it.
Steal your mail: With your name and address, a thief could try to change your mailing address through the U.S. Postal Service. This criminal can then redirect the mail you were supposed to receive to a different address.
Lenders and credit providers might then send bills and statements to this new address. Others might send offers for new cards to the fraudulent address. The criminals behind this scam might be able apply for loans or credit cards in your name or order new checks that they can use to drain funds from your bank account.
This is a type of mail theft that can be particularly damaging to your finances.
You can protect yourself by signing up for paperless billing with your lenders and credit card providers. You can also sign up for online banking so that your bank no longer mails statements to you.
The U.S. Postal Service has also taken steps to prevent this type of fraud. The service relies on confirmation letters and other methods of identity verification to help prevent fraudsters from illegally forwarding your mail.
Trick you with old-fashioned phishing: Identity thieves can also use your name and address to send you mail that looks legitimate but is a way to steal more of your personal information. This is known as a phishing scam. You might think of phishing as something that happens through email messages or texts. But scammers can launch phishing attacks through snail mail, too.
If criminals get your name and address, they can send you fake notices from legitimate-looking companies saying that you won a lottery, are due funds from a legal settlement or that you owe money from an unpaid medical or credit card bill. These letters might request that you respond with personal information such as your Social Security number, information that scammers can use to steal your identity. Others might request that you send a payment or gift cards before you can collect your lottery winnings or settlement cash.
These are all scams, of course. If you send these criminals money hoping for a prize, you can bet that those dollars will disappear.
If you receive unsolicited mail that looks suspicious, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
How can you protect yourself from identity theft?
It’s not possible to completely protect yourself from identity theft. Even if you are careful, you can still fall victim to this crime. You can, though, limit the damage thieves can do by spotting the signs of identity theft quickly.
- Regularly check your online banking and credit card accounts for suspicious withdrawals or purchases. If you find those, someone might have successfully stolen your identity to hack into your accounts.
- Order your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion each week. Study these reports for loans or credit card accounts that you don’t remember applying for. These strange loans and accounts are another sure sign that someone has stolen your identity.
- Sign up for paperless billing with your credit card and loan providers. The less paper mail with your personal information that ends up in your mailbox, the better. Thieves rifling through your mailbox or dumpster for discarded bills, credit card statements, credit card applications or other mail won’t find as much useful information if financial institutions aren’t sending paper mail to you.
- Freeze your credit: When you freeze your credit with Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, lenders can't access your credit reports. This means that scammers who have stolen your identity won't be able to open new accounts in your name because lenders and credit card providers won't be able to access your credit reports to approve these new accounts. You will have to freeze your credit at all three accounts. You can freeze your credit at Experian either online or by calling the bureau at 888-397-3742. You can start a TransUnion freeze online or by calling 888-909-8872. And you can freeze your credit with Equifax online or by calling 888-298-0045.
The bottom line
Even if thieves nab your name and address, they’ll usually still need additional information to open accounts in your name, steal your income-tax refund or break into your credit card or bank accounts. Those first two pieces of information, though, can act as a gateway to help industrious scammers uncover more important information, such as your Social Security number, birthdate or driver’s license number. If thieves get that information? They can do more financial damage.