Identity theft is truly a plague in our country today. This problem affects millions and millions of families world wide each year, resulting in something like two hundred and thirty billion dollars lost annually. That is more than the GDP of most small countries! The victims of identity theft range from the most simple and humble of families to the truly rich. Wealth makes little difference to an identity theftâ€”they take from anyone they can and they take as much as they can. The invention of the Internet has made the problem much more serious. With the ease of sharing information associated with the Internet we find a similar ease in perpetrating identity theft. Most of our interactions are less personal than they used to be, which means that we tend to know less about the people we are working with. We don’t sit down across a table anymore to do businessâ€”we just click a button and make a deal. This is easy but extremely dangerous and some statistics should help to prove why. If you have ever wondered what happens to your identity after someone steals itâ€”the uses they put it to, read on.
A good thirty to forty percent of victims of identity theft report that their identity was used to create forged checks, or some other form of checking account fraud. Something like ten percent say that they have actually had criminal warrants issued for their arrest because of financial crimes committed using their identity. A surprising thirty percent also say that their identity was used to buy cell phone or other electronic services. However, the single largest misuse of identity results in new credit card accounts being opened.
Perhaps these numbers don’t sound scary, but let’s translate them into reality. Let’s say someone steals your identity with some sort of online scam. You answer a phishing email, providing bank account information to someone who poses as an employee of your bank. You don’t realize that the scam has actually occurred until something like three or four months later. At this point several thousand dollars is missing from your bank account and a credit card has been opened in your name and maxed out. A cell phone also appears to have been bought in your name with several hundred dollars in charges. You attempt to explain to the credit card companies that you are the victim of identity theft. They might grant you some sort of pardon, but in many cases you might still have to pay thousands. In any case your credit is damaged forever and law enforcement seems unable or unwilling to do anything about the situation because it is virtually impossible to track. Furthermore, the number of cases of identity theft is so many that police don’t make it a top priority. This is saying nothing against policeâ€”they simply can’t handle the sheer volume of cases and have far more severe infractions to take care of. It takes you two years to recover financially from this attack, and you become emotionally and socially suspicious of strangers. Furthermore, there is ongoing uncertainty as to whether or not the thief will strike again and take more of your hard-earned wealth. You have to live in constant fear of a sudden new bill or credit problem.
Don’t let this story become your life story. With some cautious application of certain principles you can avoid most identity theft and help to protect your family. Together we can win the war against identity theft, although it will take some education and good practices.