On average, crime rates in the U.S. have been on the decline for two decades, especially violent crime. But one particular type of crime appears to be on the rise: identity theft.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission released a report concerning for all of us. The agency estimated that the number of identity theft complaints increased by 47 percent in 2015.
According to an article on Market Watch, the FTC received about 490,000 reports from identity theft victims in 2015, up from 332,647 in the previous year. FTC spokesman Justin Cole told the Washington Post that a significant reason for the increase was due to tax-related complaints. Specifically, thieves have been filing fraudulent tax returns under other people’s names, claiming their refunds. Last year, the FBI investigated a number of cases of fraudulent tax filing through TurboTax software.
There are two ways to view the uptick in identity theft reports. One theory holds that the crime is not actually becoming more common, but rather victims are more likely to come forward to the government looking for help. Just recently, the FTC launched IdentityTheft.gov, which victims can use to report their experiences and learn about the next steps they should take.
However, others theorize that identity theft has indeed increased — possibly even more than the statistics let on. A survey conducted by the Department of Justice found that less than 1 percent of identity theft victims have turned to the FTC for aid. In fact, only about 10 percent say they have ever gone to their local police. The DOJ estimates that as many as 17.6 million Americans aged 16 or older were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014.
Fighting back against the most common forms of ID theft
Identity theft can take a number of forms. About 80 percent of incidents involve a thief attempting to gain access to a bank or credit card account. They can do this by physically stealing a credit card or by covertly installing card skimmers at locations like gas pumps. Thieves may try to hack your email to gain access to your online bank account, or they may attempt to steal your actual mail until they have enough of your personal information necessary to open a financial account under your name.
Luckily, for most victims of identity theft, financial institutions have policies in place to resolve these issues quickly and reimburse the stolen money. But this is not the case for everyone. Serious instances of theft can leave individuals with broken credit and in debt for payments they did not make.
The key to protecting yourself against identity theft is to have a plan in place. If one of your accounts has been broken into and you have concerns about identity theft, be sure to invest in a credit monitoring service, which can notify you of certain activities that may indicate fraud. That way you can take action to minimize any damage to your identity and financial well-being, leaving you free to enjoy all that life can offer.