What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft has become one of the most common crimes in America in the past decade, with millions of Americans affected by it every year. Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of the magnitude of the problem, and they discover they became victims of identity theft when it is already too late. Like with other problems, the best way to handle identity theft is to avoid it altogether and to do that; we break down identity theft, so you have all the data you need to avoid becoming part of the statistic.
Identity Theft Definition
Identity theft has been around for a long time, and the age of the internet has made it easier to commit this type of crime. Identity theft, in its current form, involves assuming a victim's identity for the purpose of gaining access to his/her financial information.
The identity thief will get his hands on financial information so he can steal money from the victim before he realizes what happened. Once the thief has the financial data of a certain victim, he will use their credit cards, take money from their account, and also steal private data, such as social security number.
Victims of identity theft understand what happened when they see unusual activity in their accounts and other sources of data, and by that time, only the authorities can help him/her handle what happened.
Identity Theft in Numbers – the US Statistics
A staggering 15 million Americans have their identity stolen every year. This common crime leads to victims losing billions of dollars and having their personal information perpetrated by thieves. The most common data that gets stolen is government documents with credit card information theft coming in second. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network (“CSN”), only 32% of victims of identity theft file an official complaint on what happened to them. This added up to 2.5 million complaints in 2014, with 60% of the complaints revolving around fraud. 13% of the complaints were about identity theft, and the remaining 27% were about other types of fraud.
Identity Theft Types – Get to Know the Common Forms of this Crime
Identity theft has become easier in the past few years because more and more people use the internet. Purchasing items online, signing up for newsletters, looking at bank statements, and conducting any activity that involves that involves personal information as well as credit card information, leaves you exposed to having your data stolen.
Identify thieves made this crime into a form of art, and now there are several types of identity theft that you need to be aware of:
- Financial identity theft
With financial identity theft, bank account information and credit card information are stolen and used by the identity thief. When this happens, the victim's data gets used to purchase different items and services by using the victim's money. This is one of the most common forms of identity theft that leads to people losing billions of dollars every year.
- Social security identity theft
The Social Security Number (SSN) is the most important identifying asset in America, which makes it very appealing to identity thieves. Stealing SSN's is the most common type of identity theft, and the number is used to break the law in any number of ways. When the SSN is stolen, the thief can use it falsify documents, open bank accounts, steal information, and commit any number of offenses under the victim's name.
- Criminal identity theft
In this type of identity theft, the thief will commit crimes that will then be attributed to the person whose identity was stolen. During the criminal booking process, the identity thief will use his/her victim's ID number and other personal details to get the crime registered under the name of someone else.
- Medical identity theft
In 2014, approximately 2.3 million Americans had had their medical information stolen. In cases of medical identity theft, the thief will use their victim's medical information so they can use it by themselves. After the theft occurs, the criminal will then use it to use the medical services and medical products that are registered on the victim's medical insurance plan.
- Driver's license identity theft
This is one of the easiest identity thefts to commit, as the thief can simply take a driver's license from his victim's wallet. In this type of identity theft, the perpetrator will get away from having their road crimes registered to their name. That way, the thief can avoid tickets and charges easily by using the driver's license they stile.
- Child identity theft
This is similar to the identity theft of adults in a sense that the information that is stolen is a child's SSN or other personal information. After said information is stolen, the thief can open a bank account, order credit cards and even commit crimes under a child's name.
- Insurance identity theft
This is similar to medical identity theft, and with this crime, the thief steals a victim's insurance information. After the data is stolen, the criminal can use any insurance listed under the victim's name. The victim will have their premiums rise and find out about it when it is too late.
- Tax identity theft
With tax identity thefts, the criminal will steal a victim's SSN and use it to file false tax refund claims with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The claims caused a delay with the victim's legitimate tax refund claims, which causes loss of money.
- Synthetic identity theft
This is the most elaborate form of identity theft that involves the theft of SSN. After the criminal steals the SSN, he or she will combine it with other data to build a whole new person, including contact information, address, birth date, bank accounts and more.
What are the Signs of Identity Theft?
With the number of identity theft cases getting bigger every year, it is important to learn how to recognize it before it is too late. These signs of identity theft can help you from becoming a victim of this crime, and help you stop the identity theft train in its tracks.
- Getting bills for medical procedures you did not receive
- Medical insurance providers refusing to give you insurance because of medical conditions you do not have
- Reaching health benefit limits reached, which causes your medical insurance provider to refuse to cover even legitimate claims
- Having your credit card applications denied even though there is no reason for it
- Not receiving bills in the mail
- Having unexplained bank withdrawals
- Getting calls from debt collectors about accounts you did not open
- Having your checks denied
- Getting bills for purchases, you did not make/bank accounts you did not open
How to Avoid Identity Theft?
Having your identity stolen could mean a lot of trouble, and the best way to deal with this crime is to prevent it from happening. The best way to avoid identity theft is to be aware of your accounts and insurance at all times. Check your accounts on a weekly basis to see if there is any unusual activity going on. Also, use the following tips that will help you from falling victim to identity theft:
Use different passwords on the internet as well as your bank accounts
Do not write your PIN number on your credit cards
Make sure you get all your bills at the right times
Do not give out personal information online or on the phone
Have security software on all your personal computers
Request your local post office to hold your mail when you are away on vacation
Have a folder at home that holds your bills and receipts
If you have mail, do not leave it in the mailbox
What to Do in Case of Identity Theft?
If you or someone you know have fallen victim to identity theft, it is important to act quickly to prevent further damages. You need to know how to report identity theft and keep the following information close by in case your identity has been stolen. First of all, you will need to contact your local police and report that your identity has been stolen. Afterward, follow the next steps to make sure there are no loose ends that could harm you:
- Report the identity theft to your financial information holders (banks, credit card companies, insurance carriers, etc.)
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission:
- Mail: Consumer Response Center, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580, Phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT
- Contact the IRS if you believe a tax fraud has been committed in your name - phone: (800) 829-0433
- Contact your local mail office in case your mail has been stolen or is being delivered to a different address
- Contact the Social Security Administration to report any fraud or SSN theft - phone: (800) 269-0271
Identity theft has become a 21st-century epidemic that affects millions of Americans every year. To avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, you need to be aware of your financial and personal data at all times, and report any suspicious activity. That way, you can keep yourself and the people around safe from the consequences of identity theft that could be devastating.