Identity theft is the crime of using someone else's personal information, such as an account number, driver's license, health insurance card or Social Security number, to commit fraud.
From 1999 to 2010, identity theft was No. 1 on the FTC's annual list of consumer complaints. It's a crime that takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, take out a line of credit at a jewelry or department store, receive medical services or establish a mobile phone account in someone else's name.
As one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, identity theft continues to cost billions of dollars every year. Incidences of the crime increased from 9.9 to 11.1 million from 2008 to 2009 with total fraud amounts rising from $48 to $54 billion in the same timeframe, according to the 2010 Javelin Identity Fraud Survey Report.
The consequences extend beyond financial damage. False criminal records or delinquent accounts imply a lack of trustworthiness and responsibility for victims who are searching for a job.
Other victims lose the opportunity to make dreams come true. They may be unable to obtain financing for a home, car, or education because identity theft ruined their credit scores. In rare cases, victims may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
Resolving the damage is a burdensome task. According to Javelin, the mean resolution time for victims of identity theft ranged from 21 to 40 hours in recent years. Victims must prove that they didn't open the accounts, make the charges, ignore the late payment notices or court notices, or receive the medical services that constitute fraud.
For all ages, even children, identity theft is a serious crime. It only takes one important piece of information for an identity theft to start - a Social Security card, a driver's license or a bank account statement. Victims may not realize the damage for years, making prevention and awareness all the more important during every stage of life.
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