Disturbing Facts About Identity Theft

As I researched a series of articles about identity theft, I came across a lot of statistics.  The shudder down my spine grew colder and more intense with every number.

Did you know that only 20 percent of identity theft involves credit card fraud?  It’s true, according to the latest statistics available from the Federal Trade Commission.  Identity thieves use stolen information in countless ways.  Without giving the bad guys any ideas, let’s just say that they can mess up your entire life, not just your credit.

Furthermore, only 11 percent of identity theft is committed by high-tech methods, and 48 percent is committed by someone known to the victim.  This means that the receptionist at your dentist’s office or a hotel clerk is the one who is most likely to steal your identity, not the zit-faced hacker in the Ukraine.  Even if you shred every document, never lose your wallet, and never touch a computer, you can be victimized.  Unless you plan on physically looking over everyone’s shoulders all the time, you had better find another way to protect yourself.  

Why bother worrying about it?  Because identity theft is an easy crime to commit, and it is being committed more and more often, rising from 2007 to 2008 alone by 22 percent. In fact, the incidence of identity theft has risen steadily for the past decade.  With the economy mired in the doldrums, this trend will surely continue.  

Why is identity theft increasing?  Desperate people who wouldn’t otherwise turn to crime see it as almost a “victimless crime” since fraud protection laws now place most of the financial burden on banks.  These people get to work quickly once they have your information.

Here is another fact about identity theft:  The damage happens fast (usually beginning within one week of the information being acquired, according to the FTC), but it takes many aggravating hours (over 70 on average) to undo if it can be done at all.  Some people do not find out that they have been victimized until years later when the IRS audits them for income attributed to their Social Security number but not claimed on thier taxes.  Other people find out that the thief has committed other crimes and used thier stolen identity when caught.  Imagine learning that you’ve been arrested for burglary in another state!

The key to avoiding all this is to remember the adage, “Prevention is the best medicine.”  Identity theft is like a disease in the sense that preventing it is preferable to treatment.  In the event that you get the disease, early diagnosis and treatment are the best way to beat it.  

Which brings us to the good news:  Tools have been developed to help people protect themselves, and these are becoming better and less expensive all the time.  If you have anything to lose, the facts say you should look into them. 

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