What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is the crime of stealing private information (such as name, social security number, or credit card number) to commit internet fraud or other crimes. Identity thieves commonly use phishing, pharming, or scams to obtain your personal information.
An estimated 9 million Americans have their identities stolen every year. Victims of identity theft often don't realize that their information has been stolen until they look at a credit card statement or credit report full of charges they never made. Once your identity has been stolen, you may need to spend hundreds of dollars and make dozens of phone calls to clear your good name and financial records. In extreme cases, the havoc identity thieves wreak on your credit rating can make you unable to qualify for loans or obtain good employment.
What Do I Do if I Suspect Someone Has Stolen My Identity?
If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, it is imperative that you do the following as quickly as possible.
1. Cancel all of your credit cards.
2. Call the three national credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Have them put a fraud alert on your name.1
3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint.
Phone Number: 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20580
Concerns for Parents
- A 2012 study found that minors are up to 35 times more likely to be targeted for identity theft. With a never-before-used SSN, a thief is less limited in the damage he can do. More information can be found in the Identity Theft (Children) Article
How Can I Keep Myself Safe?
- Teach your children to safeguard personal information online. By establishing good habits early on, they will be prepared to face the scams and dangers that await them once they come of credit card-wielding, Social Security number-knowing age.
- Your older kids and teens may show interest in risky sites like Blippy. Even toying with the idea of sharing personal information about purchases isn't the safest idea.
- There are three agencies that will allow you to pull your credit report once a year for free. They are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you stagger these you can check your credit report for free every four months.
- Be careful about what you're posting on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter. Over-sharing makes it easy to access your personal details.
- Make sure your computer security and operating systems are fully up to date.
- Read our article, How to Prevent Identity Theft, to learn more steps you can take to keep your information secure
United States Laws
The increase in crimes of identity theft lead to the drafting of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act.3 In 1998, The Federal Trade Commission appeared before the United States Senate.4 The FTC discussed crimes which exploit consumer credit to commit loan fraud, mortgage fraud, lines-of-credit fraud, credit card fraud, commodities and services frauds. The Identity Theft Deterrence Act (2003)[ITADA] amended U.S. Code Title 18, § 1028 ("Fraud related to activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information"). The statute now makes the possession of any "means of identification" to "knowingly transfer, possess, or use without lawful authority" a federal crime, alongside unlawful possession of identification documents.
Most states followed California's lead and enacted mandatory data breach notification laws. As a result, companies that report a data breach typically report it to all their customers.5
Spread and impact
Surveys in the USA from 2003 to 2006 showed a decrease in the total number of victims and a decrease in the total value of identity fraud from US$47.6 billion in 2003 to $15.6 billion in 2006. The average fraud per person decreased from $4,789 in 2003 to $1,882 in 2006.
The 2003 survey from the Identity Theft Resource Center found that:
Only 15% of victims find out about the theft through proactive action taken by a businessThe average time spent by victims resolving the problem is about 330 hours73% of respondents indicated the crime involved the thief acquiring a credit cardThe emotional impact is similar to that of victims of violent crimes.In a widely publicized account,6 Michelle Brown, a victim of identity fraud, testified before a U.S. Senate Committee Hearing on Identity Theft. Ms. Brown testified that: "over a year and a half from January 1998 through July 1999, one individual impersonated me to procure over $50,000 in goods and services. Not only did she damage my credit, but she escalated her crimes to a level that I never truly expected: she engaged in drug trafficking. The crime resulted in my erroneous arrest record, a warrant out for my arrest, and eventually, a prison record when she was booked under my name as an inmate in the Chicago Federal Prison."
Where Can I Learn More?
Read our Newswire article on the 2010 identity theft statistics:Identity theft on the rise.
Note that many identity theft protection services are available. For a fee, they will keep track of what purchases and accounts are made in your name. The links below will take you to websites about preventing identity theft in general rather than anti-identity theft services.