As an advisor for a number of State Agencies, Universities, and Corporations in the private sector, I hear a lot of questions relating to people not knowing what constitutes “Identity Theft”. So I would like to first state that in my opinion, anything that relates to the fraudulent use of your personal information, be it financial to occupational to reputation, it should be considered identity theft. People, let’s not take this thing lightly here, OK? This is a huge problem, and unfortunately, it is not going away!
The good news is this: There are things that you can do about it, in protecting yourself and your loved ones. Know this, however, that you can not stop it entirely. So get that out of your head, if you think there is some magic button which you can push for a force-field to appear over you and your possessions. It is not that easy, because if it were, we would all be doing it, right?
Let me get back to describing what the nature of the problem is, so that I may further go into how you can look for a solution. OK?
There are, unfortunately, a lot of people in this world of ours, which do not appear to have the level of moral decency which we would expect from our fellow man. This leads us to the next issue which is that those people I am referring to, do not care who they hurt in the process or to what extent they do so.
So why am I saying this? That is simple… it is because there are several forms of what is widely accepted as being identity theft, and none of those types are going to paint a pretty picture for your life and your future. Let’s discuss then, what those types are, so you can understand better why you must do something for yourselves, since our Government is paralyzed by the situation and unable to do a thing.
The first and most well known type is Credit Identity Theft. I prefer to refer to this type as Financial Identity Theft, given that it better describes this crime more clearly. Now this type is well covered by the media, although I feel they do a poor job covering it in the fact that it is less than 17% of the cases of IDT that occur today. There are also laws in place which protect you as the consumer, from financial losses, which amazes me as to why so many of the “Protection Plans” that are available are in business. They will warn you as to the problem, but in the end, you are left to do all of the work yourself, and that is going to take hundreds if not thousands of hours of your life to do so. Listen to me closely when I say to not fall for those types of plans, especially for Corporations and their employees. Businesses lose immense amounts of money in lost productivity, due to the false sense of security that is given when individuals depend on monitoring only plans.
The second and third common types are Driver License and Criminal Character Identity Theft. I have grouped these two together due to the fact that so often, they have been found as sleezy bed-fellows. Now they can be quite insideous and take note, because the possible implications involved is a lot more than a high-schooler having a fake ID so they can buy beer. These modes of Identity Theft are often used in committing much more serious crimes, as the Identity Thief does not have the same sense of moral right and wrong that we do. When caught for other crimes, they will use the ID with their picture and your information when being arrested, thus putting their transgressions on your record rather than their own. To add insult to injury, you will not find out about this until much later, after the criminal has obviously chosen to not show up for their court appearance, resulting in the matter generating an arrest warrant in your name. You will find out about it during a routine traffic stop, or when a Police Officer shows up at your home or place of work. I am sure everyone would just love to be hauled off to jail in front of their young children or in front of their boss after just asking for a raise. I do not say that lightly, however, because that is exactly how it will happen.
The next form is Employment Identity Theft, though it reaches into a couple other areas due to the fact that we are talking about a crime which uses your Social Security Number. The two most obvious uses of this, which are the ones I will address directly, are people getting jobs using a fraudulent SSN and people filing tax returns using a fraudulent SSN. Two different types of problems – both quite horrible. Let’s address the first; There have been numerous cases where individuals discover that someone has been working in their name while using their SSN, and this leads to so many complications including your SSN benefits which should be waiting for you upon retirement. It can, however cause even more trouble due to the fact that every area of our lives at some point are traced back to our SSN. I do not wish to underscore this portion of the problem, but you can see how the possibilities are virtually endless once someone has your SSN. I will, however, state that the other obvious area we see this surface so often is during tax season. It is always off to the races for the Identity Thieves, because Billions of dollars in fraudulent tax returns are filed annually, and it is literally a race to see who gets their return in first, the criminal with your SSN or you! And forget getting that bathroom remodeled, because if the thief gets theirs in first, it will be a long time before you are able to get this resolved through the IRS.
I will now move on to the next form which is Medical Identity Theft. This manner of crime has begun to really rise in popularity among Identy Thieves for a number of reasons, and the effects are quite wide-reaching. With the implimentation of the Affordable Care Act, we have also seen an increase in the number of cases where an individual’s medical insurance was being used fraudulently by someone else. On the surface it would seem pretty benign, with exception to the financial cost related to someone using your insurance, which on average is currently somewhere around $20,000 per incident. That is not the case, unfortunately, because the risks associated with this crime go far beyond financial ones. The criminal can and does modify the medical file of the victim, with changes ranging from address (where you don’t even get the bill until it goes to collections) to changing blood type and/or underlying medical conditions and medications prescribed. These changes to your medical file can be life threatening, so it is appropriate if you are alarmed by this possibility. In cases where an emergency situation occurs, minutes can make all the difference between life and death, and false information in your medical file has taken away those minutes before you ever get started. Doctors will not know about your heart condition, and nurses will not have the right blood type on-hand. The results can be grave, most literally.
The final type of Identity Theft I will address here is that of minor children, or Child Identity Theft as we call it in our industry. This crime has shown to be one of the fastest growing forms, and in my opinion, the most disgusting. Criminals have begun using the clean records of minors for their own gain, destroying the bright future that these children should have ahead of them. They know that most parents are not currently checking their child’s credit report (since they should not have one), and the mess that is made will likely not be discovered for on average for 16 years; the time that most children are getting their Driver License, starting their first job, or getting student loans for college only to find out that their credit is ruined, their reputation destroyed, and what should have been the best years of their life suddenly become a nightmare that appears nearly impossible to straighten out. This is happening daily around this country, but does not make the news nearly as often as it should. I have seen instances where a child’s information was being used for a decade before they were even born, due to the fact that software is now in existence that can accurately predict and provide a SSN to the criminal, for them to do what they wish.
Now if this has caused you to be more than just a little concerned about the state of affairs our world is in, then I have done my job well. This is something that we all need to be very aware of, and take matters into our own hands to guarantee that all possible steps have been taken to minimize the damage that can be done to our information or that of our families.