Statistics available from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicate that seven percent of all U.S. residents aged 16 and up were victims of some form of identity theft in 2012. This amounts to about 16.6 million people and represents a serious threat to consumer security. While not all identity theft attempts are successful, the misappropriation of financial information or personal data can create serious long-term problems for the victims of this serious crime.
Identity theft cases typically involve unauthorized access to the victim’s financial resources and accounts:
• Attempted misuse of bank information accounts for 37 percent of reported identity theft cases.
• Credit card accounts are even more frequently targeted, accounting for 40 percent of identity thefts.
Banks and credit card companies have instituted a number of security measures to protect consumers against the unauthorized use of their accounts by identity thieves. Atypical transactions may trigger a restriction on access to funds until the banking institution can contact the accountholder and verify that these expenditures were authorized. While these restrictions may represent a minor annoyance for account holders, they serve as a valuable protection for the financial assets of bank and credit card customers.
Approximately 14 percent of all identity theft cases result in financial losses of $1 or more. While these incidents can cause stress and worry, they usually can be resolved relatively quickly by cooperating with bank and credit card representatives. In some cases, however, the thief actually assumes the identity of their victim to open new credit accounts, to avoid legal prosecution for a crime or to acquire benefits from state or federal agencies. These identity theft cases can often go undetected for months and can be much more problematic for victims.
Discovering the Issue
According to DOJ statistics, most consumers find out about unauthorized use of their personal information through contact from their financial institutions regarding suspicious activity on their bank or credit card accounts. Consumers also learn that they’re victims of identify theft when they discover missing funds, see unauthorized charges on billing statements and are contacted by government agencies or companies.
Addressing Identity Theft
The DOJ estimates that 54 percent of identity theft cases involving unauthorized transactions on existing accounts are resolved within one day or less. When new accounts were opened under the victim’s name, however, it can take many months to identify the full extent of the identity theft and may require the intervention of law enforcement personnel to ensure that the perpetrator is identified and stopped. Additionally, it may take multiple attempts to remove the damaging information from consumer credit reports.
Consumers should take the following steps to prevent identity theft:
Shred financial documents when they are no longer needed
Change passwords for online accounts
Check account statements
Monitor credit reports
These steps can provide solid protection against unauthorized access to personal information and consequent identity theft.