Identity theft is currently the most rapidly growing of all crimes, and is causing intense misery and anguish to increasing numbers of people – and nobody, literally nobody, is immune. As the problem grows, so does the urgency of finding solutions to identity theft. These solutions are needed not only by individuals, but also by insurance companies and banks who often have to cover the losses.
There are two main factors which are responsible for the current exponential growth in identity fraud. One is the Internet. More and more people are providing information on Internet sites, for shopping or banking purposes, or on social networking sites. In fact the amount of personal information floating around on the Internet is quite staggering, and criminals do not need a very high level of technological skill to obtain access to it. The other factor is the phenomenon sometimes referred to as “identity obesity” – that is, the replication of information provided by people who unnecessarily apply for extra credit cards or store cards, or multiple refinancing deals. All this information can easily be pieced together by enterprising criminals.
Solutions to identity theft can be grouped into two main categories – prevention, and damage limitation. Of the two, prevention is obviously preferable, and when looking at prevention, the first step is awareness. Although most people have heard of identity fraud, very few realize how prevalent it is, how easy it is, or to what extent they themselves facilitate it by their casual attitude to their personal information.
The most basic solutions to identity theft seem very obvious, and indeed look like ordinary common sense, yet the police are constantly amazed at how many people fail to observe them. One piece of simple advice is never to throw away any mail, including junk mail, and certainly including credit card and utility bills and offers of new credit cards, without shredding them. One of the thieves’ favorite tactics for obtaining details is “dumpster diving” or trash picking, and they are well able to piece together all these particulars to create a complete identity. Check bank and credit card statements for suspicious entries, and be alert enough to notice if any statements fail to arrive – they could have gone to a diverted address.
Other fairly basic precautions include avoiding carrying any items that could prove your identity, such as driver’s license or social security card, unless you are actually going to need them, and ensuring that you never divulge your social security number to anyone that does not have the absolute authority to require it. Another sensible step is to check your credit report annually. You can now look at it for free once a year by going to the site AnnualCreditReport.com, so that you can check if there is anything that should not be there. If everybody observed these rules, they would certainly seem like real solutions to identity theft.
If, sadly, you have been the victim of identity fraud, you could have lost a lot of money by the time you realize it, and it could take years to reclaim your identity and rebuild your life. However, there are solutions to identity theft that can help you repair the damage. You should certainly file a report with the police, although they may not be as helpful as you would like, as they get so many of these complaints. One of the most helpful resources is the Identity Theft Resource Center who among other things provide a large number of fact sheets, including advice on how to prepare your case and what documents you require. The Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC) at www.identitytheftassistance.org also provide a lot of advice, including a large number of fraud hotlines you can call, and practical advice on the immediate steps to take.
This is an area where crime really does pay. Many, many criminals have found this activity very lucrative indeed, and will continue to do so as long as we make it easy for them. Never be complacent – it could happen to you tomorrow, or may in fact have already happened. Just remember that solutions to identity theft do exist, but prevention is much better than cure.