I recently had the opportunity to attend a seminar on Identity theft put on by my local police department. I was amazed that only about 20-30 people showed up considering that is was free for one but also that Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. If you think that you will not be a victim of this crime, you may want to think again. Approximately 16 million Americans each year have their identities used fraudulently with financial losses in the billions. In other words, 1 American every 3 seconds or 7% of all adults have their identities misused with another million victims being added to the statistics every 30 days.
The financial effects as a result of these crimes are devastating and it can take victims years to reclaim their good name. This issue is so important that I have decided to do a three part series. 1)What is it and what are the common forms. 2) How is an identity stolen and ways you can protect yourself. 3) What you should do if you are a victim of identity theft.
So what is identity theft?
California Penal Code- Pc 530.5 (a) Every person who willfully obtains personal identifying information, as defined in subdivision (b), of another person, and uses that information for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, real property, or medical information without the consent of that person, is guilty of a public offense….
Most identity theft cases involve suspects stealing valuable pieces of an individual’s personal information, such as their name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and mother’s maiden name. Thieves use this information to impersonate victims for their own personal gain. Once the suspect has the information they can easily access your financial accounts, apply for credit cards, and even set up utility services. Many victims of these crimes suffer from financial ruin and even find out they have a criminal record.
Common types of identity theft are:
Social Security – Having your Social Security card gives perpetrators access to all your personal information. They can obtain a new Social Security card by claiming that the old one was lost allowing them the ability to retrieve your Social Security benefits, welfare, HUD/housing vouchers, and health benefits. They may even use your Social Security number to get a job, make a phony passport or file a tax return in order to receive a refund.
Driver’s license – Your driver’s license provides your name, address, and date of birth, not to mention your State driver’s identity number. This information can be used to apply for credit cards, loans, open bank accounts, purchase homes, boats or major household items that will be charged to you. Since they have your address thieves now know where you live and can rob and/or commit other crimes against you and your family. Someone using your license may obtain driving related offenses which can lead to having your license being revoked or suspended. In turn, those offenses may affect your current car insurance rates or the ability to get new car insurance.
Medical -Thieves will us your medical information to have major surgeries done, including cosmetic surgeries and stick you with the bill. They often times file false disability, medical and insurance claims.
Criminal – Once they steel your identity many go on to commit other crimes posing as you. You could get pulled over by the police for a traffic violation and end up being arrested for a felony charge that was not committed by you. Even though you are innocent you would, most likely, still be arrested and will have a hard time convincing the police and courts that you are really the victim.
Financial– Financial Identity theft covers any crime in which a suspect who uses someone else’s name to gain economic benefits. This includes getting and maximizing credit cards and loans for which you will be held accountable, emptying bank accounts, or selling expenses properties such as homes, cars, land or businesses.
Child – Child identity theft occurs when their Social Security number is stolen and use by an imposter for personal gain. Perpetrators can be family members, someone known by the family or a stranger. Children are a huge target because of the length of time from when crime is committed until it is discovered. This fraud can go undetected for years because there is usually no information or activity associated with the number until child becomes older and because parents are not checking the child’s credit report.
Knowing what type of identity theft you are dealing with is the first step in knowing what to do if you become a victim. Stay tune for the second part of my Identity theft and prevention series “How is an identity stolen and ways you can protect yourself.”