Separating Fact from Fiction: Identity Theft IS alive and well in 2010

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Identity theft is a problem that affects 5 people out of a hundred.  In the United States, that's 11.7 MILLION people, which to me makes it a serious problem.  Why then do some in the media continue to minimize the risk and impact of this insidious crime?
In a recent Consumer Reports blog, boldly entitled; New study shows ID theft exaggerated its writer offers his take on a 2008 report from the Bureau of Justice. Too bad its focus and take is skewed.

The bureau released its findings from an identity theft survey, in which the Bureau of Justice asked more than 50,000 people nationwide about their experience with identity theft.  In my opinion, Consumer Reports downplays the facts, effects and risk of identity theft and in doing so sends a false message to consumers. 

It's about to turn 2011 and the outlook on identity theft for 2011 is actually WORSE than for 2010, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Their educated predictions on the course for identity theft for 2011 are forecast in:  Black Ice Ahead in 2011. Technology is keeping pace with identity theft; today's criminals use synthesized checks, cloned credit cards, and Internet-scouring software to separate you from various portions of your identity--and your money.

One recent study from security software giant Norton revealed a staggering growth of cyber-crime. Their results show that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. Web surfers have fallen victim to cyber-crimes, including computer viruses, online credit card fraud and identity theft.  Another study, sponsored by Norton and conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, surveyed over 1,000 internet users in the US, and showed that despite repeated warnings about internet threats, users are still unconcerned or uninformed about cyber threats.

Medical and government document fraud is taking off and today's tech-savvy criminals are continuing to find new hi-tech ways to steal our data.  Any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate, unwise -and irresponsible. Here's why;
Misquotes the BJS study
The Consumer Reports blog mistakenly describes all existing account fraud as being as simple as your credit card number being misused. In fact, the BJS statistics state that 4.8 million (41%) of the 11.7 million total identity theft victims were victims of existing account, credit card-related fraud. The other 5.3 million (of the 10.1 million total existing account frauds), are the victims of multiple frauds, other existing account frauds such as utilities or are victims of existing bank account frauds which include crimes such as check fraud, check washing, wire fraud and cyber identity theft.  Many of these crimes share little in common with credit card fraud and the legal protections which are in place for consumers and offer little incentive for banks or creditors to resolve easily.

Places no value on consumer's time
Time is money and it has a value! Given the extreme challenges consumers have found in resolving non-credit card identity theft issues with their banks and creditors in the past, it is surprising that a consumer advocacy organization would make light of this problem and the 41 hours (Javelin Research) consumers spend resolving these issues.
Ignores the direct cost of identity theft to the public
Does anyone believe that banks simply write-off the cost of a fraudulent charge -without passing the cost on to us? The BJS states that the average direct financial loss of identity theft is $2,400. We all bear this cost of identity theft through higher costs for our products and higher fees through our credit cards and bank accounts regardless of whether we are personally the direct victims of the crime.
Fails to address repeated victimization
Once your your SSN lands in the hands of a criminal -you can't un-ring the bell. The Consumer Reports blog highlights the number of victims that reported identity theft in the BJS study, but does not outline that identity theft is an ongoing problem for its victims. Once information has been stolen, a person is more susceptible to be victimized multiple times throughout one's life. 26% will be victims of fraud more than once which translates to increased personal time to resolve an incident.
Relies on self-reported data
1 in 7 Consumers are already Identity-Theft Victims and are likely not yet aware. According to an industry-supported ID Analytics study, millions of consumers have been victims of identity-theft and are not yet aware. These incidents include identity thefts involving children, the deceased, employment, utilities, cell phones and even new lines of credit on behalf of thieves who are staying current on payments to build credit lines for further exploitation.

Permanent Damage can be done by Identity Theft
While the Consumer Reports blog states that 75% lost nothing after they were able to recoup funds stolen through credit-card fraud or other attacks, it does not speak to the ways in which victims can be paralyzed for the duration that their identity is compromised. Victims of identity theft can be unable to purchase homes, get preferred interest rates, or receive employment offers. This can cause a consumer to be saddled with unnecessary and costly losses that have irreversible effects.

Life-changing kinds of identity theft--the ones where the victim is arrested for a crime he or she didn't commit or has their bank account emptied and their home and health put in jeopardy because someone wrecked their credit rating--happen on a regular basis.

Would you buy an alarm?
Imagine if a community, as a whole, puts alarm systems on all their houses.  Look!  The crime rate drops!  Would anyone then imagine that the alarm systems could be discontinued?  Of course not. 

The crime deterrent has to stay in place for the crime statistics to stay down.  The same goes for identity theft.  We can't let reports of so-called lower incidence of identity theft to lull us into a false sense of security.  The criminals are still out there; if you're the one with your guard down and your alarm system off, you could be the next victim. Statistics show that we are more likely to have our identity stolen than our car. We install alarms on our car and home to deter crime. Why then shouldn't we put an alarm on our identity to do the same?

The simple truth
As technology has evolved, identity theft has too. ID theft criminals make it their job to utilize these advances to sharpen their skills and methods to steal our data -why shouldn't we do the same?
If we get into a legal scrape or need a will, we not only turn to the appropriate expert--a lawyer--we are secure in the knowledge that we are doing the right thing. If we want to ensure we purchase the best TV, cell phone or oven range -we turn to Consumer Reports. If we want to find out about complaints levied against a particular business -perhaps we should turn to the Better Business Bureau and do our research online. But when it comes to identity theft and its risk and impact, perhaps we should listen to the victims and trained security experts who are trying to educate the public and find real solutions. If we ever hope to beat the bad guys at their own game, we all need to start taking identity theft seriously.
If identity theft is really on the decline, maybe it's because of consumer education and increased vigilance in law enforcement communities and the population at large.  Maybe those services that some in the media are too quick to call unimportant are actually creating a climate where identity theft occurs less.

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Identity theft has become a major, major problem! And living without protection is like living in a crime infested neighborhood and not having protection on your home. You would probably at least have a really good guard dog and a fence right? Well, not protecting your identity today is the equivalent of living in that neighborhood and refusing to even lock your door. It’s so sad that it’s come to this, but there are always tradeoffs in life. Because we want better medical coverage and a nicer car we pay more to protect and insure them.
Likewise, with something as amazing as the World Wide Web there come tradeoffs also. One tradeoff for us having access to almost everything is that others have access to almost everything about us, our information. And that includes our personal information like social security numbers, banking information and even your medical and criminal history.

Luckily there is a lot of information out to help us understand and protect ourselves from these heartless criminals.

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