Identify theft affects up to 13.1 million Americans in 2013 and it is increasing every year, according to the 2014 Identity Fraud Survey Report published by Javelin Strategy and Research. Resolving the damage caused by identity theft takes an average of 21 hours according to Javelin, although some people continue to encounter problems with identity theft for months or years after the initial crime.
Identity Theft Methods
The Federal Trade Commission warns that identity thieves use multiple methods to acquire personal information. High tech identity theft includes phishing (using fraudulent emails or websites to convince people to give up their information) and skimming (attaching recording devices to credit or debit card machines to copy card information). Less sophisticated methods include dumpster diving (searching garbage for documents containing personal information), changing a person’s mailing address to redirect financial mail, and simply stealing mail, purses, or wallets.
Warning Signs of Identity Theft
Months can pass before people discover identity theft. Many people only find out about identity theft when collection agencies contact them for loans taken out in their names by thieves. Other victims apply for loans only to discover their credit ratings decimated by thieves who took out loans that in their name and then defaulted. Criminals who acquire a person’s banking information can clear out checking and savings account. The Federal Trade Commission also reports cases where identity thieves give their victims’ names when dealing with the police, leading to arrest warrants issued bearing the identity theft victims’ names.
Consequences of Identity Theft
Undetected identity theft can destroy the victim’s credit history, making it difficult or impossible to secure loans. Victims may find it difficult to secure employment or rent housing, as background checks include credit checks. Collection agencies and credit companies may try to collect on loans taken out by the criminal in the victim’s name. Some identity thieves, according to identity theft expert John Sileo, target children. Because parents rarely think to check their child’s credit history, such thieves can use the child’s name for significant time periods without detection.
Police Reports and Credit Fraud Reporting
The Federal Trade Commission recommends anyone who suspects identity theft take the following steps. File an ID Theft Complaint with the FTC and print a copy of the complaint. Take the complaint to the police and file a police report detailing the nature of the identity theft. Send copies of this report to all companies affected by thief’s activities. Send a copy of the police report to any of these three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion or Experian). You should ask them for an extended fraud alert mechanism placed on your credit history. Keep all documentation with collection agencies, the police and credit companies. Check credit reports on a regular basis to spot any new fraudulent activity.
Preventing Identity Fraud
While anyone can become a victim of identity theft, a few precautions lower the risk. Purchase a good quality paper shredder and shred all documents containing personal information before disposal. Consumers have the right to a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit companies, available at the Annual Credit Report website. Take advantage of this and review credit reports every six months. Never give out personal information to unsolicited emails or phone calls. If financial bills suddenly stop appearing in the mail, check at the Post Office to make sure thieves have not changed your home address.
Federal Trade Commission. Fighting Back against Identity Theft.
Sileo,J. Detection-Fraud: 15 Signs You’re a Victim of Identity Theft.