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When you apply for credit, a mortgage, a place to live, government benefits, or tax refunds, you need documents showing your income, employment, and other information. But not everyone plays by the rules. Some businesses sell fake documents to people who use them to get products and services for which they might not otherwise qualify.

Today, the FTC announced cases against three sellers of bogus documents. In its complaints against Katrina Moore and Innovative Paycheck Solutions, Steve Simmons and Integrated Flight Solutions, and George Jiri Strnad II and Abstract United, the FTC alleges the defendants sold fake documents used for identity theft and fraud. The bogus documents include fake pay stubs, banks statements, tax forms and medical documents. As part of the proposed settlements, the defendants are prohibited from selling fake documents or services as well as templates or tools for creating such documents.

The sale of fake documents has far-reaching consequences. Let’s say identity thieves get your personal information — maybe from an online hack, dumpster diving, postal mail tampering, or some other source. Then they put your information in templates like the ones sold on the defendants’ websites. This generates real-looking (but fake) documents that let identity thieves get credit, a lease, government benefits, or a tax refund — all in your name. When the thief doesn’t pay those bills, it would be your credit that suffers. And when the identity thief gets benefits or tax refunds in your name, you might not get a needed benefit or a tax refund for many months.

It’s not easy to know when someone is using your information on a fake document, but read more about steps you can take to help keep your personal and financial information secure.

To get more information like this, sign up for the FTC's Consumer Information Updates.