Over 490,000 consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in 2015; a 47% increase from 2014.
In 2014, 17.6 million people were affected by identity theft at a cost $15.4 billion. $15.4 billion!*
Identity theft is really at pandemic levels. Identity theft is not only a fast growing white-collar crime in America; it is a global crime.
Data breaches are a way that thieves get a victim’s information and; unfortunately, data breaches are on the rise. The Identity Theft Resource Center reports in an article dated January 19, 2017, “The number of U.S. data breaches tracked in 2016 hit an all-time record high of 1,093…”
Unfortunately, identity theft is becoming so commonplace in our world that it does not get as much attention as it should. Some people view this crime to be of little consequence.
The fact is identity theft causes tremendous chaos in people’s lives. Some victims have related the crime of identity theft to rape. Identity theft leaves victims feeling angry, humiliated, violated, and vulnerable. In addition to this, it can take years to recover from identity theft.
Excerpts from a story reported on WALB News:
Cassenda Nelson says it is both a physical and mental challenge every day to get her mail. Since 2008, she says being a victim of identity fraud has made her and her four kids life a nightmare.
Nelson warns people to guard their financial identity, because the consequences are life altering. “This has been tragic for me and my kids. It really has.”
I have conducted presentations on this topic and I am always surprised to hear people say they are not at risk because ‘I tear up my junk mail’, ‘I don’t have a credit card’, or ‘I don’t have any money for them to steal’. All of these views are dangerous. The fact is that your name and information has been in a database from the day you were born and will be in, at least one, database long after you die; that is enough for identity thieves.
Now you add to that, among other things, that you probably have:
- worked somewhere
- had a bank account
- had some sort of insurance
- had a credit card
- been to the doctor
- given your information to a business when you ordered a product
You have lived your life. You have compounded your chances of becoming a victim.
The only way I can see that someone would not be at risk for identity theft is if he or she were born in the woods, their birth was never recorded, and they never lived a life in the world we all live in.
Identity theft is not just some annoying, bothersome, victimless little crime. Victims have spent countless hours, sometimes years, working to straighten out the mess identity thieves leave after they assume the victim’s identity. Not to mention the hundreds or thousands of dollars victims spend to clean up after this crime. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a victim will spend an average of $1,495 and 600 hours getting his or her finances straightened out. That is not counting lawyers’ fees or lost wages.
In conducting research, I once read about a victim who said something that really stood out to me. She basically said, ‘I no longer exist. The woman who stole my identity has more evidence that she is me then I have that I am me.’
Excerpt from a story in Forbes:
From an identity theft victim when asked how her experience made her feel: “It’s the most time-consuming, upsetting, emotional event you have to go through. Somebody went in and so easily removed my information and had their information override mine on this all important, encompassing document — my credit report. You’re told from a young age to establish credit responsibility so down the road, you can make a big purchase like a vehicle or home. Meanwhile, some lunatic has barely any information about me and gets access to all these goods and services — yet I have to go fill out all these affidavits and turn in my utility bills and all my personal data to remove this fraudulent charge. The companies didn’t ask anywhere near that when they extended the credit. But now that it affects their bottom line, they turn around and make me do all this.”
WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT
Identity theft occurs when someone uses information he or she has acquired about you, without your permission, to represent themselves as you. It is a double-edged sword against the individual whose identity has been stolen and businesses, financial institutions, or credit companies.
Identity theft is a crime of convenience. I once heard a speaker say, ‘Identity theft is easy. So easy, a whole life can be lived on someone else’s wallet.” Think about that for a minute. What is in your wallet? Your driver’s license, your credit cards, your insurance card, your social security card, your children’s personal information, maybe your ATM pin number, etc.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT IDENTITY THEFT
There are many misconceptions about identity theft. Four of them include:
1. Identity theft only includes financial identity theft
Financial identity theft is the leading type of identity theft and the type that gets the most media attention. However, there are actually several different types of identity theft: (click on each to learn more)
- Government and tax-related
- Criminal/character/driver’s license
- Social security
2. You are not a target if you do not have money, own a home, or have a credit card
Anyone can be a victim. Victims of identity theft come from all walks of life, occupations, income levels, and ages. Individuals with high incomes and the ability to get credit are the preferred targets of identity thieves, but almost anyone can be a victim.
Victims live in different size cities and towns in all 50 states. Victims include but are not limited to:
- Teachers and principals
- Nurses and doctors
- Secretaries and CEOs
- Police officers
- Construction workers
- Truck drivers
- Social workers
- Gas station attendants
- Warehouse workers
- Disable veterans
- Celebrities have not been immune to identity theft
3. & 4. Identity theft only happens to middle age, working-class adults and Identity theft only happens to individuals
The special victims of identity theft are:
- College Students
- The Elderly
- Dead People
- Businesses – both through the impact of consumer identity theft and through the theft of the business’s identity
THE IMPACT ON THE VICTIMS
Victims of identity theft feel helpless because they cannot stop what is happening to them and neither can anyone else. Many times victims of identity theft are unable to rent an apartment, get a job, qualify for a mortgage, or buy a car, all because someone else destroyed their credit or reputation. Some victims have lost their jobs and even ended up in jail for crimes they did not commit. Overall, leaving victims with:
- Bad credit records
- Unforeseen expenses
- The fear that their home may be at risk or their cars may be repossessed
- Criminal records
- And more…
Victims of child identity theft are sometimes, among other things, unable to go to college or get their driver’s license. Businesses who are victims of business identity theft sometimes lose their good reputation or must file bankruptcy. Elderly victims can be left without any retirement or security.
Excerpt from an article on www.BusinessIDTheft.org:
Determined criminals can employ more sophisticated tactics designed to impersonate and defraud even a large, well recognized company, and the lengths to which they are willing and able to go can be shocking. To illustrate, consider the following case involving well-known computer and electronics manufacturer, NEC Japan.
In May of 2006, a private investigation conducted by international risk management and investigations firm, Investigative Risk, uncovered a sophisticated ring of criminals that had established a complete NEC-branded company. By the time that the operation was finally shut down, this bogus company, operating in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan, had more than 50 factories producing a complete line of counterfeit NEC products, including computer keyboards, computer peripherals, CDs, and DVDs. The company was even reportedly developing its own MP3 players and home entertainment systems. The persons operating the factories utilized counterfeit NEC identification, and several of the buildings brazenly displayed NEC signs. Products were shipped in NEC labeled boxes, and the company even went so far as to charge royalties to other companies to license the products that it produced. The counterfeit NEC products produced by this company were reportedly discovered being sold throughout China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. As some small measure of consolation, according to NEC, the counterfeit products were deemed to be “of generally good quality.” Had they been of significantly inferior quality, the operation may have eroded consumer confidence in legitimate NEC products, and the NEC brand, causing further losses beyond significant lost revenues.
All of this information is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to identity theft!
PROTECT YOUR IDENTITY
Following are eight secrets to protecting your identity:
- Avoid giving out personal information over the phone in public – Pay attention to who is around you when you are talking on the phone.
- Be careful when using public Wi-Fi – Do not visit websites where you need to enter a password (i.e. your bank) or use your credit card (i.e. online shopping). If you travel a lot and need to use Wi-Fi for your personal business on a consistent basis, consider purchasing a mobile hotspot. These devices give you access to protected Wi-Fi.
- Reduce telemarketing or unwanted calls – Register your phone number(s) through with the National Do Not Call Registry. Through their website, you can also report unwanted calls.
- Limit junk mail and junk emails including unsolicited credit card and insurance offers – I am sure you have heard many times that you should not throw away junk mail, pre-approved credit card offers, old bank statements, old medical records, etc. Instead, you should shred all of those documents preferably with a crisscross shredder. This is still very good advice; however, why not take this one-step further and reduce the amount of junk mail you receive by opting out of unsolicited mail and emails. Click here to learn more about opting out. (Be sure to scroll through the entire web page for all of your options.)
- Do not respond to unsolicited requests for personal information from companies you do business with – You probably already know you should not open junk emails or give out your personal information over the phone to companies (or callers) you are not familiar with. Did you know you should not respond to unsolicited requests, by phone or email, for personal information from places you do business with? That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you give information to places you already do business with? First, most places you do business with should already have your information so why are they calling you? Second, if you did not initiate the phone call, how do you know the person on the other end of the call, or who sent the email, is really who they say they are? Someone could be phishing for your information. If you receive an unsolicited call from a place you do business with don’t respond to their request for information. Tell them you will call them back. Then call them back at a number from your statement or other legit document you have for them (not a number they give you). The same goes if you receive an email. Do not reply to the email, instead call them. By doing this, you are protecting yourself by making sure the request is real. Also, if the call or email was not real the business will want to know if someone stealing their identity.
- Check your credit report yearly – Once a year, you should obtain a copy of your credit report from the three national credit bureaus. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website to learn more.
- Review you medical records – In addition to paying attention your credit history, bank/credit card statements, etc., be alert for signs of medical identity theft. Request copies of your medical records from your health care provider or routinely check the patient portals that many healthcare providers make available to their patients. Also, contact your insurance company and obtain a copy of all expenses paid in your name.
- Pull your “rap sheet” – Be aware of your criminal history. Because of criminal identity theft, it is a good idea run a background check on yourself once a year even if you have never had a run in with the law and should not have a “rap sheet” or criminal history. To obtain your criminal history, contact your local police or sheriff’s department. You can also obtain an Identity History Summary through the FBI.
Educating yourself about identity theft and how to protect yourself will help you reduce or manage this life’s chaos.
Make this your best day,
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Angie R. Boecker is a specialist in managing life’s chaos. She is the author of two books, Effective Grant Writing: Submit a Stronger Application and The Secrets to Thinking on Your Feet and a blog entitled The Travel Element. As a public speaker, Angie has spoken to audiences on topics that help them manage life’s chaos.