Identity theft has grown exponentially over the past few years, spurred by the financial rewards, the relative ease of committing the crime, and the low probability of being caught.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 9 million Americans are victimized each year, costing consumers $5 billion, and banks and corporations $56 billion every year. To clean up one’s credit report and associated complications requires an average of $1173 and 175 hours.
Stealing wallets or purses is still the primary method to obtain another person’s personal information. Today, “dumpster diving,” combined with Internet Web sites and search engines, help criminals identify and exploit their victims.
Criminals gain access to individuals’ credit reports by posing as potential landlords, employers or loan officers. They “shoulder surf” at checkout lines and videotape transactions at ATM machines to capture PIN numbers. They steal mail from mailboxes for bank or credit card statements and newly issued credit cards, and “dumpster dive” in trash bins for credit card and loan applications that have not been shredded. After combining key pieces of individuals’ identities, they are able to impersonate their victims, obtain loans and steal the money.
Identity thieves are very brazen. In one incident, the identity thief took out a life insurance policy on his victim. In another incident, an identity thief was arrested after two victims living in the same apartment complex struck up a conversation about their travails. This coincidental conversation ultimately led the police to arrest a person that worked in the business office of the complex and had access to the rental applications and credit reports of present and past tenants.
Contrary to popular belief, even people with bad credit can be victims of identity theft. Generally, victims of banking and credit card fraud will be liable for no more than the first $50 of the loss. However, the victim must notify financial institutions within two days of learning of the loss to avoid being responsible for the fraudulent activity.
Even though victims are usually not responsible for paying their imposters’ bills, their credit report is always left in shambles. It takes months or even years to regain their financial health. In the meantime, they have difficulty writing checks, obtaining loans and housing, and even getting a job. Victims of identity theft seldom find help from the legal authorities as they untangle the web of deception created by their imposter.
Frank W. Abagnale is one of the world's most respected authorities on forgery, embezzlement and secure documents. For over 35 years he has worked with, advised and consulted with hundreds of financial institutions, corporations and government agencies around the world. His biography and information on his company and services are available at http://www.abagnale.com.