Is identity theft real? I would have assumed that the reality of identity theft is no longer in question. Yet, with summer being a time for parties and travel - and I’ve been doing a bit of both - when I tell people I have just met what I do, I’m constantly surprised how many ask if identity theft is real or if it's really a big problem.
Some believe that the threat of identity theft is overblown, just an attempt to use scare tactics to encourage people to buy "protection" that they don't need. To put in bluntly, nothing could be further from the truth. Identity Theft is very real, and is a growing danger for the average person.
What are the chances of any one individual falling victim? That depends on how much of their personal information is out there - in databases, in the files of health care givers and institutions and how often they are online, where they are online, and how careful are they to avoid many of the pitfall that can lead to having your identity stolen.
We see it every day here. We see it in the victims who come to us for help and we see it in the day to day monitoring we do for people who have registered with Identity Guard.
The Federal Trade Commission - the federal government's consumer watchdog – certainly does not see identity theft as some sort of marketing gimmick. In its 2012 annual report on consumer complaints, identity theft tops the list of consumer complaints - and for the 13th consecutive year.
Says the FTC: "Identity theft is once more the top complaint received by the Federal Trade Commission…↑2012 marks the first year in which the FTC received more than 2 million complaints overall, and 369,132, or 18 percent, were related to identity theft."
According to the FTC, identity theft was the most common type of crime reported to them last year, accounting for 18 percent of all complaints, nearly twice as many as the next category — debt collection — and significantly higher than in 2011, when identity theft accounted for 15 percent of consumer complaints.
The largest area of growth in the FTC report by a mile has to do with tax returns. Identity thieves have clearly developed a preference for this low-hanging fruit, and the closely related practice of using someone else's Social Security number to apply for a job (and sticking the victim with the tax bill). In 2010, only 15 percent of identity theft cases involved tax or wage fraud, which was more or less even with credit card, phone and utilities fraud.
The annual report on identity fraud from the authoritative Javelin Strategy & Research found that the number of instances of identity theft rose to an estimated 12.6 million in 2012. But even Javelin's chilling figure is probably well below the actual number, when you factor in all the cases that go unreported or categorized improperly.
Hackers, identity thieves and fraudsters of all stripes have reached the conclusion that a stolen identity is a key that can unlock all kinds of fraud: opening doors to millions of dollars in instant profit, providing access to medical products, services and/or treatments on someone else's dime, even offering up an innocent fall guy to law enforcement officials all too eager to "get their man."
We see identity theft happening so regularity and to such a wide variety of individuals - business people, stay-at-home Moms and especially children - that you can't help but conclude that it seems no longer a question of if someone's identity will be stolen — the only unknown is when it will happen.
So when I am asked if identity theft us real, I have to smile. Yes it is all too real. That is the only answer I can give.