Identity Theft is the fastest growing white-collar crime in America today. In 2005-2006, 15 Million Americans had their identities stolen. That's a new victim every two seconds! The Federal Trade Commission (FDC) reported that a stolen ID is used an average of 30 times before the victim finds out about it.
This also means it can take up to one year before you become aware your identity has been stolen. In fact, as you are reading this article, you may already be an Identity Theft victim and not even know it. Scary to contemplate, isn't it?
Although the statistics are grim, you can take pro-active steps today to protect yourself and your loved ones. To accomplish this, you need to know which types of personal information identity thieves are stealing to commit crimes.
Here are the five most common types:
* Driver's license ID Theft: The information on your stolen driver's license provides your name, address, and date of birth, as well as a State driver's identity number. Thieves use this information to apply for loans; credit cards; open bank accounts to obtain checking accounts; buy cars, homes, boats, stereo equipment, jewelry, anything of value – all charged to you. Most driver's licenses also have your street address on them. So the thieves know where you live and can rob you and your home and / or commit other horrendous crimes against you and your family.
* Social Security ID Theft: Thieves use this information for all of the luxuries listed above, as well as obtaining new Social Security cards (claiming the old one was "lost") to obtain Social Security benefits you worked all of your adult life for; welfare benefits; HUD benefits, including housing vouchers; medical and dental care; and to obtain false passports to be able to slip in and out of the USA without apprehension.
* Medical ID Theft: ID Thieves use your medical information to file false workers' compensation claims; have surgeries, including cosmetic surgeries, often to alter their appearances to avoid being recognized for previous crimes; to file for other Social Security benefits, such as phony disability claims and / or false medical liability claims, including insurance claims; and to have medical procedures done for legitimate health problems but you get stuck with the enormous hospital and doctor's bills.
* Character / Criminal ID Theft: ID Thieves commit crimes, posing as you! Consequently, you could apply for a job or get pulled over by the police for a burned out tail light on your car, and end up getting arrested for a murder or bank robbery or some other felony you know absolutely nothing about. It then becomes your difficult job to try to convince the local police and court that you are really the victim and are indeed innocent of the crimes committed in your good name.
* Financial ID Theft: Although there is obviously overlap between some of these types of ID Theft, this category specifically and more completely involves a crminal posing as you to empty your bank account (s); financial holdings; remove any valuables you may have in storage in bank vaults; steal any off-shore assets and / or international financial assets or bank accounts; and buy and sell expensive properties such as homes, cars, land, or businesses; and apply for loans and credit cards or credit accounts and quickly run up the tabs on these accounts to their maximum limits, for which you will be held accountable by the companies who approved of the loans and accounts in the first place.
The good news is: the FDC has quickly responded to these new crimes and law enforcement is working closely with other government agencies to apprehend these criminals and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Thanks to many members of the Senate and Congress, bills have been introduced and new laws are being passed to help victims of Identity Theft restore their credit and good names in a more efficient and timely manner. One such law is "The Identity Theft Protection Act." It eases the burden of the victim's financial liability for falsely incurred debt and exonerates the victim of the other crimes committed in the his / her name.
In the meantime, moniter your personal information closely, as well as your bank account and credit card statements. Get copies of all your national credit reports at least annually. Cross-shred all personal information not needed, credit card offers, junk mail, and anything with your personal information on it.
If for any reason you suspect you or your loved one (s) – including your children – may be a victim of Identity theft, take ACTION immediately. Call the Credit Bureaus, the banks, credit card companies, and whatever entity may be involved, to file a report; have your accounts "flagged" for possible Identity Theft activity; close bogus accounts; freeze bank and credit card accounts and follow-up on any suspicious activity. Please read my previous article: "How To Prevent Identity Theft". I discuss the specifics of protecting yourself in that article.
Knowledge is Power. Educate yourself and your friends and family about these types of crimes. Most importantly, know what steps you can all take to protect yourselves and your good names.
Jennifer M. Forest