Identity theft: Are you at risk?
Part 1 of 3
PLYMOUTH — If an armed robber stole $5,000 from the bank, he could receive a sentence of 20 years. If someone stole your identity and defaulted on a $20,000 loan he would receive about one year with the probability of probation. You would not only spend thousands of dollars to clean up his mess but also could spend several months, perhaps years clearing your credit record. The potential for a big payout with minimal punishment is the reason why identity theft is the fastest growing white collar crime in the 21st century. These facts were brought to light by Officer Brooks Johnson of the Indiana State Police, Criminal Investigation Division, during Money Smart Week.
Identity theft is not only a national problem, but also a local problem, victimizing over 30 million 4 people in the United States. Identity theft is found at every economic and social level. It crosses boundaries of race and gender. The criminal could be an associate, neighbor, or even a roommate. About half of the victims will know the person who steals from them. According to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report, in 2006 an estimated $15.5 billion was taken through identity theft. Although local statistics are not available, Officer Johnson says that identity theft is active in almost every community.
One of the most common forms of identity theft is stealing a social security number. Criminals will sell a social security number to anyone who desires to establish a new identity: illegal immigrants, thieves, or even terrorists. These social security numbers can be fake numbers, a "deceased" number, or a number stolen from someone — perhaps you. With this number, a criminal can set up credit cards and use them, get loans, and picture IDs. While using your identity, any taxes illegal workers might owe would be in your name; also any unpaid bills or bad debt would affect your credit history.
A culprit does not always need a social security number to steal from you. All those free credit offers that are carelessly thrown in the trash can be retrieved and filled out with false information. Eventually, someone may have a credit card in your name. Any type of mail with personal information can be used as the basis for a false identity. Old cell phone bills or bank statements carelessly tossed aside can be a way for a criminal to gain access to your accounts and use them.
Online shopping? Online fraud is the easiest to perpetrate and often the hardest to catch. Even when shopping from a secured site, you compromise security for convenience. Many online shopping sites can easily be breached to steal personal information including bank account numbers, medical information, and credit card numbers. Recently, clever thieves have found ways to electronically "lift" your debit/credit card number from ATMs, gas pumps, and other electronic devices. By attaching a reading device to the machine, thieves can retrieve hundreds of credit card numbers. Everyone at some point has exposed themselves to identity theft. What can you do to reduce your risk?
Tomorrow: Identity theft risk reduction