The concept of an evil twin has been around in books and movies for many years: the protagonist is an amiable and well-liked fellow, who suddenly finds his life spinning out of control as people begin to accuse him of saying and doing things – bad things – that he did not. It soon becomes evident that someone out there with his likeness is doing a lot of bad things for which the hero is getting blamed. This is essentially what happens with identity theft: you suddenly find out that you have an evil twin out there ruining your financial good name, and forcing you to mount some type of identity theft defense.

Identity theft is usually defined as using someone else’s personal identifying information in order to fraudulently obtain something of value (e.g., goods, services, etc.). Personal identifying information includes things such as name, date of birth, social security number, bank account numbers and credit card numbers. With identity theft, the criminal essentially pretends to be you and takes advantage of your good name and reputation for their own gain.

For instance, a criminal with your personal identifying information may open a line of credit or obtain a credit card in your name. (In fact, credit card fraud is the most common form of identity theft.) They can then max out this credit, buying whatever they wish, and never pay a single penny towards the balance they’ve rung up, because it’s all in your name. In fact, they may do this with several lines of credit. The most insidious thing about the entire situation, however, is that you may not even be aware that it’s happening. It’s possible for a victim to remain totally clueless for months. As long as the criminal doesn’t do anything that raises an immediate red flag – like cleaning out someone’s bank account – the victim often remains unaware of what is going on until some event draws their attention.

Typically, in terms of credit card fraud, the victim will find out that their identity has been stolen when they try to do something that involves obtaining a loan, like buying a house or a car. Or, they may notice that the limits or interest rates on their existing credit cards have changed dramatically or without reason. A call to the credit card company usually reveals that their credit score has taken a nosedive due to a number of over-the-limit charges and late payments. From there, it doesn’t take long to discover that they have an evil twin that has somehow come into existence, and from that point it’s a running firefight to hang on to who they are and protect themselves from any further identity theft.

In brief, you can’t just assume you’re safe because there are no outward signs that you are a victim. By its very nature identity theft is a sly crime that may easily escape notice. Thus, defending against it requires that you be proactive – namely, that you monitor your credit (among other things). Simply put, you have to mount some type of identity theft defense before the crime happens, because if you wait until your evil twin actually makes an appearance it is far, far too late.