The New Face of Identity Theft

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When most people think of identity theft they think of someone stealing their credit card info or using their personal information to establish new credit cards.  Credit monitoring services live and breathe on this assumption, selling consumers on the idea that identity thieves are going to use their good names for illicit credit schemes and that credit monitoring is the best protection available against this theft.  Too often, though, credit monitoring alone, does little to nothing to protect against intrusive identity theft crimes, because identity thieves aren't just after your credit cards anymore.  Identity theft has become a crime of a thousand faces, with the number of ways that thieves access and use consumer data at an all-time high and climbing.

In Texas recently it was revealed that only three percent of those affected by a state data breach that exposed information of 3.5 million people for a year or more on a publicly accessible computer, had taken advantage of free credit monitoring services offered by the state.  I can't help but wonder how many of the people who haven't signed up for the free credit monitoring have avoided it because they've done their homework and realize that there's more to identity theft protection than just credit monitoring.  With so many ways that an identity thief might use their data, why would they want to sign up for a service that only monitored one narrow portion of their identity?

Identity thieves can target individuals and steal unemployment benefits, tax returns, medical insurance, Social Security numbers and clean out bank accounts along with a variety of other ID theft crimes that are not credit related. Today it's important to understand that it's critical to monitor your whole identity which involves more than just keeping track of your credit.  Unfortunately, not many people understand the difference between the two -often because of confusing information or outright false information that seems to downplay identity theft crimes while minimizing the true impact.

In December 2010, 3,047 people responded to a Harris Interactive online survey about identity theft protection services. Slightly less than half of the respondents were subscribers to an identity theft protection service. Harris found that 72% of subscribers were happy with their choice.  Many of the respondents said that they had more peace of mind as a result of having a full identity monitoring in place and that the service was more convenient and easier to use when trying to repair the damage done by identity theft.

This is an encouraging statistic showing; to the people who actually use the service there is a definite difference in the effect that monitoring your identity as a whole can have as opposed to only having their credit monitored.

Since identity theft is changing, it's time for us to change too.  We have to change the way that we think about identity theft and realize that it's not just a credit-related crime.  All types of personal information is valuable to criminals, including your medical records and pay stubs.  Be careful with your information because you never know what a potential identity thief may be looking for.  Consider using a whole-identity monitoring service to keep an eye on more than just your credit report so that you can be alerted whenever any suspicious activity occurs.

Most importantly, never think that identity theft couldn't happen to you. Insider identity theft continues to be a growing threat that many people are unaccustomed to hearing about. Every day our information is shared with people we believe we can trust, those we don't know and sometimes with people we'll never meet; every credit card transaction, insurance claim, online payment and website signup is passed through a number of systems.

If you don't understand the risks --you can't possibly understand the potential impact.  Don't underestimate the time and effort it takes to protect and restore your identity once you learn it has been compromised.  Identity theft victims--like me--can tell you how long and weary the road back to your pre-theft self can be. Identity theft can happen to anyone, and the sooner you find out about it the sooner you can take action to stop the damage if it happens to you.

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