Identity Theft and You

Advice and helpful tips to help you understand and stear clear of identity theft.

If you have a driver’s license, a bank account, a computer, or simply a social security number, you are a prime target for identity theft. Whether you are new to the idea of ID Theft, or you have some unanswered questions, here is a quick refresher list below that should bring you up to speed.

Identity theft is the wrongful use of another's personal information, such as credit card numbers, Social Security number, and driver's license number to commit fraud or another form of deception for gain. This is usually done for financial reasons, but many times the activity is linked to other criminal motives. And today, it’s one of the most prevalent crimes in the US. Unfortunately, it is still growing.

Why does this type of crime happen?
The target of identity theft is personal identity information that will enable the thief to assume another's identity. Although identity theft is in itself a criminal act under both federal and most state laws, the theft is almost always a stepping stone to other crimes such as credit card fraud, bank fraud, computer fraud, Internet fraud, fraudulent obtaining of loans, and other schemes designed to enable the criminal to profit from the original theft. Often, financial gains are used to finance other types of criminal enterprises, including drug trafficking.

Who does Identity Theft really affect?
Virtually anyone may become the victim of identity theft. In most cases all that is required is good credit, which is what identity thieves use to steal thousands upon thousands of dollars in the name of the victim. No particular age group is immune. Due to the common interest in the Internet, younger Americans may be victimized at a higher rate, which is the primary tool in many identity theft crimes. However, elderly Americans are highly vulnerable to other types of identity theft schemes, particularly the various telephone scams used by perpetrators to acquire personal information.

Where can this happen?
Anywhere. Complaints of identity theft have been received from all 50 states and the largest number of complaints came from California, New York, Texas, and Florida.  

How do thieves do it?
Really, all it takes is one slip (of paper) for an identity thief to strike. The most obvious way to steal someone's identity is simply snatch a wallet. Thieves also comb the dumpsters of banks, mortgage companies, restaurants and other businesses for receipts, credit slips and applications. Skimming devices are also used to take the encoded information on the magnetic strips and create new accounts. Then there's shoulder-surfing, when thieves stand close enough to see PIN numbers punched in by ATM or phone booth users.

Perhaps the most frightening (and most thorough) way for a thief to steal someone's identity is by purchasing it at one of the identity search companies that have sprouted on the Internet. For as little as $49.99, these companies will sell you someone's Social Security number (the heart of identity theft), their mother's maiden name (the second most valuable piece of information), their home and employment address, their previous addresses, their credit history, and more. Even more tragic than the monetary loss is the personal cost of identity theft. 

When does this type of crime usually happen?
All the time. Again, the ease of technology has made the crime a 24 hour, 7 day a week lucrative business for criminals. And the damage caused by ID theft can last for years after the fact. Many times, more experienced thieves do not utilize stolen data or identities right away. They may start with small transactions to determine if there is any awareness of the loss. After those small transactions get through, then the thief either systematically runs similar sized transactions gaining profit in the aggregate, or they attempt a big draw down of cash or credit all at once, depending how fast they wish to operate.

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