|In the 21st Century this can be a very common crime scene.|
Identity theft is something that affects everyone. The crime and the criminals who perpetrate it, have the ability reach into the farthest corners of rural America. The theft is a silent one that can have effects far outweighing a simple burglary into one's home. The after affects of identity theft can leave a person footing the bill for years, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
"Many people do not realize how easily criminals can obtain our personal data without having to break into our homes," states the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) website. "In public places, for example, criminals may engage in 'shoulder surfing' watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit card number over the telephone to a hotel or rental car company."
According to the DOJ, another common trick criminals use is 'dumpster diving.' This involves going through a person's garbage once it is on the street to obtain copies of checks, credit card or bank statements or other records that typically bear a person's name, address and even telephone number.
"These types of records make it easier for criminals to get control over accounts in your name and assume your identity," says the site at www.usdoj.com.
The DOJ further reports that 'pre-approved' credit cards received through the mail can be especially dangerous. Often the mail is discarded with the documentation inside still intact. Criminals often get a hold of these materials and activate the cards.
"Also, if your mail is delivered to a place where others have ready access to it, criminals may simply intercept and re-direct your mail to another location," states DOJ site.
In recent years, the Internet has become an appealing place for criminals to obtain identifying data, such as passwords or even banking information. One of the more dangerous areas of the web, according to the DOJ, are the 'spam' and unsolicited emails an individual may receive. These messages often include a promise of financial gain while requesting personal data.
With enough identifying information a criminal can take over someones complete identity and conduct a broad range of crimes: for example, false applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards or obtaining other goods or privileges which the criminal might be denied if he were to use his real name.
"If the criminal takes steps to ensure that bills for the falsely obtained credit cards, or bank statements showing the unauthorized withdrawals, are sent to an address other than the victims, the victim may not become aware of what is happening until the criminal has already inflicted substantial damage by abusing the victim's assets, credit and reputation," warns the DOJ.
Several cases noted by the DOJ make the threat of identity theft very real.
A California woman pleaded guilty to several crimes after using another persons identity to obtain thousands of dollars in credit and then filing bankruptcy in the name of her victim.
More recently a man was charged for several crimes after obtaining private bank account information and using it to deposit $764,000 in a savings account he had set up.
"To the victims of identity theft and fraud, the task of correcting incorrect information about their financial or personal status while trying to restore their good name and reputation can seem daunting," cautions the DOJ. "Unfortunately, the damage that criminals do in stealing another person's identity and using it to commit fraud often takes far longer to undo than it took the criminal to commit the crimes."
To reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim the DOJ recommends that acronym 'SCAM':
S - Be stingy about giving our personal information regardless of where you are.
To start this, adopt a 'need to know' approach when dealing with personal data.
During a recent seminar on identity theft at Active Re-Entry, Officer Shane Henrie cautioned citizens to watch for anyone who calls your residence asking for personal information.
He recommended that upon receiving such a call, individuals should hang up and call their bank or credit card company back themselves.
When traveling have any mail held at the local post office, or ask someone well known to pick the mail up.
The Sun Advocate's Web Administrator Jason Bailey recommends omitting personally identifiable information for anything frivolous on the web, such as message boards, blogs or social sites such as MySpace.
"Don't give your personal information to anyone or any company you don't really trust," said Bailey.
C - Check financial information regularly and look for what should be there and what shouldn't.
Look closely at monthly bank account or credit card statements and if statements quit coming on open accounts, inquire with the company as soon as possible.
The DOJ recommends reporting any unauthorized spending on your accounts immediately.
"Keep checking your computer as well," said Bailey. "Make sure that your computer has up to date virus protection and the latest bug and security patches available via Windows Update."
A - Ask periodically for a copy of the most recent credit report.
"Your credit report should list all bank and financial accounts under your name and will provide other indications of whether someone has wrongfully opened or used any accounts in your name," stated the DOJ website.
M - Maintain careful records of all banking and financial accounts.
Even the most vigilant individual can be attacked by identity theft but according to the DOJ, the most important thing to do is to immediatly report the crime to the credit or banking institution along with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT.