According to the Federal Trade Commission, The 1990's spawned a new variety of crooks called identity thieves. Your everyday transactions, which usually reveal every bit of your personal information: your bank and credit card account numbers; your income; your social security number (SSN); or your name, address, and phone numbers. An identity thief obtains some piece of your sensitive information and uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. (http://www.ftc.gov/). In this paper, I will argue as to how identity theft takes place and how we can deter it.
Victims of identity theft usually do not even know that they have been targeted until it is too late. Identity theft can take years and a lot of money to clear up. As with other crimes we cannot completely control if we are victims, but we can be aware of how criminals obtain our private information, how can we minimize the risk of being a victim and some helpful information on what to do after the crime is committed.
How Does Our Private Information Fall into the Wrong Hands
Thieves get personal information in different ways. (http://www.ftc.gov/). The FTC (Oct., 2003) stated: "Thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information such as:
·Stealing records from their employer,
·Bribing an employee who has access to these records, or hacking into the organization's computers.
·Rummage through your trash
·Obtain credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have legal right to the information.
·Steal credit and debit card numbers as your card is processed, using a special device known as skimming
·Stealing wallets and purses
·Steal mail like pre-approved credit offers, new checks, tax information, and bank statements
·They can complete a change of address form to divert your mail to another location
·They can steal personal information from your home
·They can also scam information from you by posing as a legitimate businessperson or government official.
·They can also hack into your computer over the internet via messenger (Msn, Yahoo, or Aol), chat rooms, email, almost anywhere on the net." (1)
There are different ways of telling whether or not ID theft has happened. Always go over bank statements, look to see whether or not there are unexplained charges or withdraws posted to your account. Receiving collection calls for account that the consumer has never opened is another clue if you have been targeted. Another possible indicator that identity theft has occurred is when the consumer fails to receive utility bills, or other mail that usually arrive at a certain time each month. Receiving credit cards that were never applied for, or denial of credit for no apparent reason, could also serve as an indicator that you fallen prey to this horrendous crime of identity theft.
Thieves use other people's personal information to buy different items they cannot obtain through other means. Thieves can even give the same information to police following an arrest. If they are released and do not show up during court, the person's name they gave could even have an arrest warrant issued in their name all over the county. It is also possible, besides having credit ruined, for victims to be arrested for crimes they did not even commit. (http://www.ftc.gov/). Saunders & Zucker (Aug, 1999) gave an example of identity theft---the story of Terry Rogan. In 1981 an escapee from the Alabama state prison, started using Rogan's name, after unlawfully receiving a copy of Rogan's birth certificate. The escapee McKandes, was relocated to California to be kept under suspicion of murder but was eventually released using Rogan's name. A little while later McKandes again was issued an arrest warrant under the name Terry Rogan, charging him with two robberies and two murders. The warrant was issued in the National Crime Information Center, ensuring everyone was on alert for Terry Rogan, not the real criminal, McKandes. The real Terry Rogan was pulled over for minor traffic offences 5 different times and all five times he was taken into custody for a crime he never committed. Sometimes he was even taken into custody at gun point. Currently Indiana ranks twenty out of all fifty states on the highest number on identity theft. 4,300,000 people in Indiana in 2002 had their identity stolen, and the highest amount of identity theft victims range from age 18-29 making up 31% of all victims. Although these numbers are alarmingly high, there are numerous thing people can do to protect themselves.
Protecting Personal Information
There are many things people can do to help the odds that you as a consumer will not be a victim of identity theft. (http://www.ftc.gov/). Such as:
·Place passwords on pertinent personal information.
·Secure personal information at home.
·Ensure the security of personal information at the work place.
·Shred all unneeded mail with personal information about you.
·Get a credit report from all three reporting agencies.
·Protect your computer with a good antivirus / firewall / cleaning/ program.
·Don't give out personal information unless you have initiated contact
·If going away on vacation call the Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to have your mail stopped."(3)
Even though people have protected themselves there is still a chance that they can become a victim. Swartz (May/Jun, 2003) gave a perfect example of what can happen to personal information; Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate students Simon Garfinkel and Abhi Shelat released a study showing the problem with computers and how easy it may become obtain personal information. The two bought 158 used hard drives from secondhand computer stores and EBay. Of the 129 drives that functioned, 69 still contained recoverable files and some of the information left on them ranged from personal information, medical records, and 5,000 credit card numbers. One hard drive even revealed a year's worth of transactions and account numbers from a cash machine in Illinois. In 2002 Pennsylvania sold computers that contained information about state workers. According to experts, the only sure way to erase a hard drive is to "squeeze it"; writing over the old information with new data - all zeros, for example at least once, but preferably several times. A one-line command will perform the operations needed, or some inexpensive software tools. Considering the previous examples, consumers must always be on alert.
After Your Identity Has Been Stolen
If a person suspects that their personal information has been used to commit fraud he or she must follow these steps: (http://www.ftc.gov/).
·Place a fraud alert on all credit reports and reviews
Equifax -- To report fraud, call:
1-800-525-6285, and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian -- To report fraud, call:
1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), and write: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion -- To report fraud, call:
-1-800-680-7289 and or write to: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
·Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
·File a police report with your local police.
·File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (5)
By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials track down identity thieves.
Although, there are numerous about of ways thieves can obtain consumer's personal information. Consumers knowing the right steps to identify when there may be a problem concerning personal information, how to reduce the risk of being a victim, and knowing when there has been an attack on their personal information will help consumers tremendously. So much so, the correct steps to take in filing a complaint will save consumers time, money, and stress of having to cope with the horrendous crime of identity theft.
ID Theft. (2003). Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved October 19, 2003, from
Saunders, K., & Zucker, B. (Aug, 1999). Counteracting identity in the information age: The
Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. International Review of Law, Computers &
Technology, 13 (2), 183 - 193.
Swartz, N. (May/Jun , 2003). Hard Drives Tell All. Information Management Journal 37 (3),