Most of us have heard about identity theft or been the victim of it. Identity theft affects something like ten million Americans each year, and costs people hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide. The emotional and psychological strain is also devastating because identity theft usually causes serious problems with credit ratings and even employment. Few of us realize the severity of the situation and we need to know why so many people are scared about this epidemic. With the invention of the Internet the problem has only become worse. It is so easy to exchange information online these days that we find ourselves doing most of our banking, socializing, and purchasing online. This provides us with some great opportunities, but it also means that we are not as safe. Someone can easily pose as someone else and obtain our information. Identity theft also occurs in more common methods, such as raiding someone’s mailbox or garbage can. Any piece of information that an identity thief can use will be used to gain access to funds inappropriately. Although many of us have heard about the statistics associated with identity theft, we don’t realize what they would really mean if translated into an actual event.
In something like thirty percent of identity thefts, the victim does not realize what has happened until three or for months after the incident. In many cases they could have lost something like four or five thousand dollars. Perhaps thirty percent will take at least four months to a year to recover from the attack. In sixty percent of the cases their identity will be used to obtain a new credit card or line of credit. In thirty percent of the cases their information will be used to commit check fraud. Only about fifty percent of the cases will get a response from the police, which is understandable, given that these are very difficult crimes to track and punish.
Let’s translate this into the terms of your life and see how everything plays out. You make a mistake and respond to a phishing scamâ€”perhaps someone posing as a bank employee who is trying to get your information. Although you don’t know it, this thief uses your identity to open three new credit cards, which are quickly maxed out. They also open a new cell phone line in your name and commit some form of check fraud. You have to spend thousands of dollars repairing the damage (assuming that the credit card company does not forgive the debt). Furthermore, your credit rating plummets because you cannot pay off everything at one time. You try to explain to the credit agencies but they are difficult to reach and ultimately will only take some of the bad rating away. Your attempts to get the police involved might draw a response, but they will ultimately be unable to catch the person. The whole affair takes you one or two years to conclude and in the end you are still unsure about how your identity is being used. You live in some fear of further problems and have trouble getting loans or new jobs for much of the rest of your life.
Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? While this might be a little dramatic, there are many cases that result in far worse consequences for the victim. You need to educate yourself and your family about identity theft. Take some basic precautions online and when at home to prevent it from happening to you. Through a few simple steps you can avoid most of the identity crime perpetrated today.