You already know identity thieves can steal your personal information for big purchases, to get a credit card or to secure a loan. But it’s also important to be aware of the people who live their lives by completely assuming the identity of another person. Instead of just using your credit card information to buy a flat-screen TV online, these identity clones may go to work with your first and last name, buy a house with your social security number and have kids as you. Considering the rising identity theft numbers, with up to 15.4 million consumers affected in 2016 compared to 13.1 million in 2015, becoming a victim of identity cloning may be more likely than you think.

The Costs of Identity Cloning

It’s not just disturbing when someone uses all of your personal information and says goodbye to their former identity to become someone else; identity theft is also costly, and is rising as thieves and clones become more sophisticated. Identity fraud losses increased $1 billion from 2015 to 2016, up to $16 billion last year, Javelin Strategy & Research reports.

Furthermore, identity clones may be dangerous. They may be criminals on the run hiding out from the law or possibly even mentally ill. In addition to racking up mountains of debt in your name, tarnishing your medical history and increasing your health insurance premiums, they may commit crimes as you and damage your reputation to employers and clients.

Identity clones sometimes target people they intimately know. Areyo Dadar, of NoIdentityTheft.com, was an identity clone victim after his real estate partner assumed his identity for bad business dealings. After stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from victims while pretending to be Dadar, the clone fled the country. Dadar was forced to declare bankruptcy, close his business and even went to jail. Dadar went from having a perfect credit score of over 800 and owning a home and a car, to losing all his material possessions and reputation.

It’s not just the living who are potential victims of identity cloning. Often, those who are deceased are targets. A recent example is of a man from Indiana who was wanted by the FBI, who obtained a new identity and abandoned his family to live in Florida for more than two decades as another man who had drowned, an Indiana news station reports. Some identity clones will live as other people for long periods of time, while some will switch identities based on when it’s beneficial for them to do so, making the threat of identity cloning constant and elusive.

Warning Signs

Being aware of identity cloning threats requires looking for similar indicators of identity theft. These include:

If you’ve had any personal documents lost or stolen, such as a driver’s license or passport, it is extremely important to install some type of identity theft protection and report your missing documents. These types of identifiers are useful to identity clones who want to “become” you.

How to Protect Yourself

The best way to safeguard your identity from an identity clone is to use an identity theft monitoring and protection service that is constantly and proactively auditing your identity and mitigating warning signs. While regularly checking your credit reports is a great idea, there are so many aspects to your personal life that may be in danger when identity cloning occurs.

Identity clones want as many personally identifying details about you as possible to most authentically live a life as you. If you’re active on social media, you are more likely to be a victim of identity theft. Keep profiles private, and consider limiting the amount of personal information you share online.

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re using unique passwords on every website you log into. Using passwords that have a complex mix of characters, upper- and lower-case letters and numbers is wise. Use a password manager to keep track of passwords. When choosing security questions and answers, make sure the information is not publicly available online.

If you have loved ones who have died, you may want to invest in identity theft and cloning protection for them, as well. Teenagers may also be victims if they are close to the clone’s age. Since children are often victims of identity theft, you may consider protecting your entire family with a professional service. 

If you believe you may be a victim of identity cloning, it is vital to file a police report immediately, as well as notify banks and creditors to put a fraud alert on your accounts. The comforting news is that, the more proactive you are in managing your identity, the less likely you are to be a victim of identity cloning.