Monday, April 03, 2006

Is Identity Theft Growing or Not?

The Justice Department put out a report yesterday saying that about 3% of Americans have been victims of identity theft in the recent past, a figure that is about a third of what another government study had said in the past. In February, Javelin Research did a survey that put the number at about 4 percent.

The Javelin study found that about half of identity theft victims actually knew the person who stole their info -- so the identity theft bogeyman might just as easily be your next-door neighbor who stops by for a cup of sugar (I know, no one does that anymore, but I couldn't think of another example very quickly) as a conniving meth addict hiding in the bushes trying to read your ATM PIN.

Of course 3% is a lot of people in actual numbers, so I'm not trying to underplay it, but is it really a problem that's getting worse? Or do certain media (especially local TV news programs in my experience) like to play it up as another one of their shocking revelations with reports titled "Hands Off My Pocketbook!" or "The Thief You Can't See"?

I've had credit cards stolen when I was a little careless, but the credit card companies make so much money off of their system that they're more than willing to let me lose my card every so often with absolutely no liability. It's a hassle digging up your account numbers and getting things reissued, but life's a hassle in general, so you take the good with the bad, at least IMO.

I guess your take on this might depend on whether you've been a victim of identity theft or not. Or how bad the identity theft was.

How about you? Have you been a victim? Was it a big deal or no?


At 9:33 AM, Blogger Miserly Bastard said...

There may be some definitional problems with the term "identity theft". For instance, the term may include situations where your credit card number was compromised and unauthorized charges were made. This has certainly happened to me. In fact, it has happened twice in 4 years.

However, this sort of identity theft is much less problematic than situations where somebody opens up new accounts under your SSN, and runs up thousands in charges that you do not detect for months (after your credit is tarnished). This type of identity theft has never happened to me.

To prevent identity theft, people should:

1. Scrutinize all charges on your credit card statement, bank account, etc. If you're like me, you might also consider doing mid-month checks of your accounts online. Contest unauthorized charges immediately and in writing.

2. Use a cross-cut shredder for all document containing personally identifiable information, e.g., names, addresses, DL numbers, account numbers, SSNs, etc.

3. Order free credit reports from the 3 major reporting bureaus on a regular basis. Look for accounts you dont recognize and/or accounts that are in default or in arrears

4. Protect your electronic data. This means using hard-to-hack passwords, encrypting WLANs, avoiding public computers, keeping security software up-to-date, etc. I have written about this topic on my blog.

5. Give sensitive information only to known parties. Its OK to give your SSN to your doctor so he can process an insurance claim, but it's a different thing when you type in your SSN on some fly-by-night website that claims it can "find" missing money you are owed in long-dormant/forgotten accounts. Be cautious. In a recent lease application I signed, I declined to write my SSN on the application form itself, and instead wrote it on a separate 3x5 index card, which I requested the leasing agent to destroy after my credit bureau reports were run. I dont trust others to keep my data secure.


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