Just How Big of a Problem Is Identity Theft?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

One common misconception about identity theft is that it only seriously affects people who are lazy or not careful with their private information. However, that isn’t true at all. Due to the amount of people that have access to your private information at stores, doctor’s offices, and even over the phone, there are many opportunities for strangers to steal your private information without you knowing it. Family identity theft has also become a huge problem, with children unfortunately becoming the victims much of the time. Unlike some crimes where the victim has to break into your home or rob you in person, identity theft can be completed without you even seeing the perpetrator. Your information can be bought and sold online, as well as in person, and often the perpetrator can’t be caught.

Identity theft is not a small problem — it’s actually the fastest growing crime in America, with 9.9 million incidents per year. In 2012, seven percent of people sixteen or older were identity theft victims. Credit card, bank account, and other existing account use comprised 85 percent of the issues, but people who suffered from new accounts being opened in their name were more likely to suffer from serious financial, credit, or emotional distress.

About 14 percent of victims lost $1 or more, but about half lost less than $100. This doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it doesn’t take into consideration the amount of time that some victims spend trying to clear all of their accounts up, which can take hours or more (half of identity theft victims were able to resolve issues in a day or less.) However, of those who had personal information used improperly, twenty-nine percent spent a month or more fixing the issues.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Most people hope to never deal with identity theft, and certainly to avoid many hours fixing any issues. One way to protect your personal information is to invest in an identity protection plan. These plans offer credit monitoring or computer software, and many other options depending on the plan. Most plans also include assistance in the case of identity theft. Another way to protect yourself is to be aware of who can legally ask for your private information, to only give out your social security when you have to, and to be careful about locking up private information, even in front of family members.

Although it seems strange, family identity theft is a big problem. Child identity theft doubled in 2012 for victims under five (a separate study found that 2.5 percent of households with children under 18 experienced child identity theft.) Different studies use different ages, but what is clear is that child identity theft is real, and it’s a growing problem.

Children are not the only ones suffering from family identity theft either. Family members and friends often have easy access to your personal information because they come to your home. Some information they already know just by spending time with you (like your birth date and address), so they have a leg up on other potential thieves. Also, unlike strangers, you most likely already trust them. Although most family members are trustworthy, you should still be careful with your private information.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Even businesses are suffering because of the rise in identity theft. Business identity theft is another branch of identity theft that can cause huge problems. When word gets out that private information has been stolen from a business or doctor’s office, businesses can lose customers. In addition, the business itself might be blamed for the crime, and have to pay for any resulting issues. Most stores have security breach notification laws, which require that people be notified if personal information is stolen.

There is also a chance that an employee’s private information could be stolen at work because it wasn’t stored properly, which is a separate, but equally concerning issue from information that is stolen from customers. This can happen at any business.

Identity theft is affecting many people, including children, adults, and even businesses. While you can’t guarantee that you won’t become a victim, you can take steps to avoid falling victim to identity theft. Be sure to protect your information against anyone who might try to steal it — even family members.

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