When the Federal Trade Commission’s 2014 consumer complaints report was released in March 2015, commissioner Terrell McSweeny referred to identity theft as “the crime of the 21st century.” Since the dawn of this millennium, identity theft crime has been the top-ranked complaint. In 2014, the FTC received almost 1,000 such complaints per day.
In the report, the FTC noted that identity theft was used most often for obtaining government documents like drivers’ licenses and tax returns as well as government-supplied benefits. That type of theft was followed by credit card fraud, phone or utilities fraud, and bank fraud.
Thirty-two percent of those hit by identity theft contacted law enforcement, but those who’ve had to untangle this type of fraud know a police report is just a first step in a long process. For some, it can take months or even years to get records cleared of fraudulent information caused by identity theft.
What Is Identity Theft?
The increasingly sophisticated attacks that fall under the heading of “identity theft” are designed to steal your information so that it can be used for someone else’s gain. For example, with medical identity theft, a thief might use your health insurance data to pose as you to receive care from a physician or hospital. Many people don’t realize the event has happened until weeks later, when a hospital bill comes in the mail or an insurance company denies coverage of a claim because of that previous, fraudulent visit.
Identity theft is also hitting taxpayers particularly hard. In tax identity theft, a thief files a tax return under your social security number, usually with fake work history. The IRS processes the return and issues a refund, and the legitimate taxpayer usually doesn’t discover the theft until his or her return is rejected as being a “duplicate.”
A Trending Problem
Because of the prevalence of identity theft, the crime has become more of a concern than violent crimes, natural disasters or terrorism, according to an October 2014 Gallup Poll. In a statement, FTC commissioner McSweeny noted that 69 percent of Americans said they were very concerned about the safety of their credit cards and that 62 percent had similar worries about their smartphones and computers.
Responding to the alarming identity theft statistics, McSweeny noted that the government is taking many steps to fight back, including a presidential executive order that mandates more resources for consumers, easier identity theft reporting and better processes for identity repair. “In a world where crime is increasingly technological, we need new authorities to better protect consumers in the digital and networked marketplace,” McSweeny said.
Although the government’s efforts will be welcome, especially if they result in an improvement in identity theft statistics, the problem is extensive enough that consumers need to continue to be on alert and proactive about protecting themselves. Employing tactics like checking your financial accounts and credit reports can help.
In addition, consider adding another layer of protection by enrolling in IdentityForce’s UltraSecure+Credit. Your personal information will be monitored 24/7, and you’ll be notified quickly of any suspicious activity. If anything does happen, IdentityForce will be with you every step of the way, so you can quickly restore your identity.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Alan Cleaver.