Ever wonder what it would be like to live in a place where it was safe to leave the doors unlocked, to walk down the street alone, or to trust everyone that enters your house These days personal information can be found in a person??™s car, purse, or home; and can even be stolen by the least expected person. While there are preventative measures that can be taken, identity theft is a serious crime that is conducted in many ways and has caused large amounts of damage for many individuals.
Many people welcome family and friends into their home and never consider the possibility that they would steal person information. The truth is, the closer someone is to their victim, the easier it is to steal their information; with less risk of being caught. Co-workers, caretakers, and even family members have been known to carry out such crimes. While it does happen, a small percentage of identity thefts are targeted for pure revenge rather than money or personal gain. The illustration below shows an estimate of identity theft victims per state based on the 2006 United States Census population. (CCCSSA, 2005)
Identity Theft Victims by State (Per 100,000 Population) | ? |
| ? |
Less Than 60? 60 – 80More Than 80 | |
Research indicates that there are two dominant motives for identity theft: financial gain and to conceal one??™s true identity. Criminals can make long-term financial commitments by taking out mortgages or buying cars; using the victim??™s credit history. Criminals can also establish dozens of charge accounts, use them, and then abandon them without paying; or run up large amounts of debts, then file for bankruptcy. Thieves who steal credit cards or checking account numbers are most likely going to make fraudulent charges against the account. It is not uncommon for criminals to obtain phone or wireless services in someone else??™s name, usually by stealing social security numbers. Identities can also be stolen for legal or medical purposes. For example, a thief can use someone else??™s identity after being pulled over for a traffic violation so that the victim??™s driving record is the one to take the hit. Or a thief could use the victim??™s identity to receive medical treatment covered by his or her insurance. According to the annual victimization study conducted by the Identity Theft Resource Center in 2008, credit card fraud accounted for 39% of reported identity theft, check fraud accounted for 17% of all victims, and 33% accounted for loans obtained in the victim??™s name. (ITRC Study, 2009) Sometimes, money is not the objective. Criminals may commit identity fraud to hide their own identity to commit acts of terrorism; terrorists obtain false visas and passports to avoid being traced after committing terrorist acts. Personal information has also been stolen and used to forge military identification cards. The criminal may also assume another??™s name to cover up past crimes and avoid capture over many years. Other reasons to steal one??™s identity may include human trafficking, committing felonies, and creating passports.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are three main ways thieves steal personal information: mail fraud, dumpster diving, and stealing wallets or purses. (Identity Theft, 2008) Junk mail is disregarded by many people; however, thieves will dig through trash seeking out junk mail such as pre-approved credit cards, existing bills, bank statements, and much more. People throw away information all the time that can provide valuable information to a thief. Some thieves will steal information directly from wallets, purses, or home burglaries. Mail fraud has been reported by approximately 400,000 people a year. (Identity Theft, 2008) This includes stealing arriving mail, outgoing mail, or even forwarding mail to another address. Criminals may steal mail that includes bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and tax information. The internet has become a large contributor to identity theft as well. Criminals pose as legitimate companies asking for personal contact information or credit card information. This same process has been known to happen by telephone as well. Computer hackers can steal records from a personal computer or even directly from a company. Criminal can also obtain information from businesses or other institutions by stealing records or information while on the job, bribing an employee who has access to the records, hacking the records, and conning employees.
While identity theft is a serious concern, there are ways to reduce the risk of becoming a victim. The first tip to remember is to be extremely cautious about giving out any personal information. It is important to guard personal data. For example, a credit card company may need to know your mother??™s maiden name for security purposes; a stranger does not need to know this information. If personal information is asked over the internet, be suspicious. Unless you are making a purchase from a secure, well-known website, reputable companies will not ask for personal information over the internet. Personal checks are easily stolen and many times contain more information than they should. Never have your social security number printed on your checks. Never throw away receipts or statements without shredding them first, there may be account numbers and other personal information located on them. Do not provide personal information by phone; this is how many scams are perpetrated. Protect your mail by using a locking mailbox. Checking financial information regularly by monitoring accounts and looking for unexplained transactions is also extremely important. Be sure statements are being received regularly and contact the institution if they are not. Obtaining a copy of your credit report can help you be more aware of how your information is being used. Everyone in the United States is entitled to one free report from each of the three credit bureaus within a 12 month period. It is recommended to stagger each request every fourth month to help better monitor your information throughout the year. Even if these precautions are taken, it is still possible to become a victim of identity theft so it is important to maintain careful records and act quickly once you have realized you have become a victim. During an analysis of 1322 identity theft files, a person discovering they were a victim of identity theft resulted from one of seven categories. (Saint Xavier University, 2000-2006) The chart below summarizes these findings.
(Saint Xavier University, 2000-2006)
Victims of identity theft need to take certain steps quickly to minimize potential damages. If financial accounts such as bank or credit card accounts were hit, the victim should close the accounts immediately. When new accounts are opened, place passwords on them; avoiding mother??™s maiden names, birth dates, last four digits of social security numbers, and phone numbers. If one??™s social security number was stolen, the victim should call the nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on the credit reports. An alert can stop someone from opening new credit accounts in the victim??™s name. If a driver??™s license or other government-issued identification is compromised, the agency that issued the document should be contacted. Procedures to cancel and replace the document should be followed as well.
In summary, personal information can be obtained many ways including mail fraud, stealing trash, and stealing wallets or purses. The information obtained is then used in any way that will bring financial gain to the criminal or to hide the true identity of the criminal; the main motive is financial gain and a small number of criminals are motivated by revenge. Whatever the reasoning, all is severely damaging to the victim. Most criminals of identity theft know their victims; information is easier to obtain by being invited into someone??™s home. While preventative measures reduced the risk of becoming a victim, no one is 100% safe from identity theft. How are you protecting your identity
CCCSSA.? (2005).? Identity Theft Statistics.? Retrieved from http://www.identitytheftcounseling.org/Statistics.htm#US
IdentityTheft.? (2008).? FTC: Identity Theft is the Fastest Growing Crime.? Retrieved from http://www.identitytheft.com/index.php/article/fastest_growing_crime_in_the_country
“ITRC study sheds light on financial crimes.(IDENTITY THEFT)(Reprint).”? Community Banker? 18.8? (August 2009):? 13(1).? General OneFile.? Gale.? Apollo Library.? 25 Nov. 2009?
Saint Xavier University.? (2000-2006).? Identity Theft: Findings and Public Policy Recommendations.? Retrieved from http://www.theifp.org/research%20grants/ID%20Theft%20in%20Chgo%20-%20%20Final%20Report_press.pdf