"Date of birth, Social Security number," he said. "But they can also involve passwords, identification numbers or words used to access websites."
Once a criminal has accessed your identity, it's easy to quickly open multiple lines of credit and perpetrate "bust-out schemes." These victimize both the person whose identity was stolen and the financial institution where the new line of credit was opened.
"One of the newer issues that we're seeing with this is ... the fraudster takes out credit cards and then immediately uses the credit cards to buy gift cards at various department stores," he said. "There are websites online where they can sell those at 90 percent of face value." This type of criminal can commit a major identity theft, walk away with the profits and be free of any connection to it.
Leff said that if someone believes they are the victim of identity theft, that person should first contact the credit bureaus to put an alert on their accounts, and then contact the internet crimes complaint center. Don't forget to include all documents and records of phone conversations that might be connection to the crime, he said.
"Our folks at the center can link that up and use every means at our disposal in order to get to the bottom of how it happened," he said.