Synthetic ID Fraud – manipulation of information

By Elvis Huff on July 23, 2020
8 minute read

Recently, I’ve written a lot about your information being used fraudulently. Next, I want to talk about synthetic ID fraud – or fraud where a fake identity is created using all or some fake information.

What is Synthetic ID Fraud?

Synthetic ID fraud is one of the fastest growing fraud trends. Synthetic ID fraud is affecting industries, governments and individuals globally. According to a McKinsey and Company study, synthetic ID fraud is on the rise, and it accounts for 10 to 15 percent of charge-offs. Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, concurs about the serious nature and impact of the problem in their article “Detecting Synthetic Identities: The Best Offense is a Good Defense.”

Synthetic ID fraud involves criminals using completely fake personally identifiable information (PII) – or some of your (stolen) PII along with fake PII – to create an identity. Personally identifiable information (PII) can contain all or some of the following: Full name, date of birth, social security number, address, email address and phone number.

Given this, it is easy to break down synthetic ID fraud into two types: manipulated and manufactured. Manipulated synthetic ID fraud is based on real personally identifiable information but tweaks one or more pieces of the information, such as a DOB or SSN. Manufactured synthetic ID fraud is the combination of stolen identities to create a new person that does not actually exist.

Where do criminals get this information?

Criminals troll through internet resources to get their information. Some example sources are credit report breaches, public record sources, young children, the deceased, data breaches and online forums such as black markets.

A note about young children: If a child receives a credit card offer in the mail, or email, it may indicate their identity has been stolen some time ago. This should be researched immediately to investigate if the child has a credit profile at the three bureaus. If they do, report identity theft and freeze the credit file, since an adolescent normally doesn’t need a credit card anyway.

How do criminals use these “new” identities?

Once the information has been obtained, the criminals set out to begin using their new persona by building and establishing the identity. To do this, the criminals start out with simple things like creating email accounts, obtaining cell phone service, renting an apartment, and getting a prepaid debit card and shopping online. All of this type of activity forms a digital footprint so the criminal can begin establishing a credit profile under the false identity.

After the basics have been established, criminals will move on to the next step, making actual credit transactions. This phase takes significant time and a basic identity must have been established prior. This is also the point where the victim, if their legitimate information was used, might notice some unusual activity due to alerting and reporting to credit bureaus. However, even if the criminal attempts to obtain credit and is denied, a credit file is created using the fake identity’s information once it runs through the credit systems.

Synthetic ID fraud is a real threat. According to a Verafin article and infographic on the topic, institutions could suffer $2M in actual losses from a 10-person fraud ring using just 2 identities. Organizations are fighting back against this type of fraud through the use of identity checks and verification.

What to do about this?

The concept of synthetic ID fraud is frightening and concerning, but you do have options to protect yourself. Remember the alert the victim receives when the criminals have attempted a transaction on their identity? If you receive an alert on your identity, don’t delay, take action immediately. Investigate the alert and notify your credit bureau right away. Also, if known, notify the institution where the transaction was attempted and let them know that it was not you and that your identity was stolen. Then file an ID theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at For more information on what to do, check out my previous posts on Disputing credit report entries, How to protect your identity after a disaster and WBT’s FREE Identity Monitoring – MasterCard ID Theft Protection.

As always, remain vigilant and on guard against unsolicited offers. You should have an eye of uncertainty when dealing with a robocall, unexpected email, phone call, text message or letter. If you have suspicions, attempt to confirm with the sender and original source before handing over your sensitive information.

Wilson Bank and Trust is here for you. Should you need help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us online at, our mobile app, or call us at (844) WBT-BANK (844-928-2265).

Have another thought, tip or suggestion? Leave it in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!


Posted by Elvis Huff

Elvis Huff worked as an officer and network administrator for 12 years with the Lebanon Police Department and has also served as an adjunct professor in information systems at Cumberland University. Read More »

One Comment

  1. Thanks Elvis ! You do not get enough public credit , however, we know that you are there and really appreciate your effort…..Keep up the good work.


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