With more than 9 million victims a year, identity theft continues growth as a Number One crime: Internet Scambusters™ #376
Although every one of us is potentially a target for identity theft, some groups are more vulnerable than others, especially the young.
Tragically, some identity theft fraud cases are actually perpetrated within families -- by one member against another.
And, as this week's issue highlights, the economic downturn is coaxing more and more first-timers to steal identities.
On to today's main topic...
Identity Theft Update: Kids, Students and Medical Services Are Key Targets
Identity theft, America's number one crime, which claims more than 9 million victims every year, looks set to plumb new depths in 2010, targeting some of the nation's most vulnerable groups -- children, students, and the medical sector.
What's more, according to the San Diego-based non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center, which produces an annual Top 10 list of identity theft fraud targets, economic hardship will prompt previously "clean" people to turn to crime, with identity theft their main weapon.
"Once desperate people max out their credit limits and wreck their own credit histories, they will start to use Social Security numbers that they can easily access," says ITRC chief Jay Foley. Stolen credit card numbers are also high on the hit list.
These new identity theft crooks will use the relatively simple methods of stealing credit card numbers, dumpster diving, phone calls and online phishing to get the information they need.
The same desperation will lead to more child identity theft and family "inside jobs" as well as fraudulent use of numbers belonging to close friends, roommates and fellow workers, ITRC warns.
Child Identity Theft
Identity theft reports involving children now account for 10% of all cases. We highlighted it in an earlier issue of Scambusters, Startling Facts About Identity Theft, noting that since many children don't use their SSN until they turn 18, to get a job, an identity thief can use it for years without getting caught.
The SSN might be used to help the impostor get a job, to raise credit, or to obtain a driver's license. Sometimes, child identities are used by crooks when they get caught, so they show up as having no prior convictions.
Amazingly, although the most common source of child identity theft is, as we reported in our earlier issue, undocumented workers, there are increasing instances of the offense being committed by a member of a family, even a parent (often when there has been a family split) who has seriously damaged his or her own credit or driving record.
Certainly, it is usually left to parents to try to clear up the mess of child identity theft that may trail back over 10 or 15 years; the problems can even haunt the child into adulthood.
Action: When you show your child's birth certificate, you can order a credit report for your child from the three credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Your request will probably have to be in writing.
If you find anything wrong, or if you are already aware that your child has become a victim of identity theft, contact the police and get the credit agencies to flag up the offense. If the offender is a relative, you may also need an attorney.
But the messy and time-consuming task of straightening out the records will be down to you and is largely the same as for an adult, though you have one additional weapon -- the ability to point out to credit issuers that your child is too young to have entered into a contract and that it is therefore not legally binding.
(You may wonder why credit issuers do not verify dates of birth when credit applications are made. So do we.)
Sadly, it's also possible that a child victim of identity theft could also suffer psychological damage and you may need to seek counseling help for them.
For more assistance with spotting and unraveling identity theft problems, visit the Scambusters Identity Theft Information Center.
You might also consider subscribing to an identity theft protection service, such as TrustedId.
Students and identity theft
A recent case in which a university police officer and his wife pleaded guilty to stealing the college's enrollment list, which included hundreds of students' Social Security numbers and dates of birth, underlines the vulnerability of these young people to identity theft.
It's such a big issue that we previously devoted a three-part college students' guide to identity theft to the subject.
Apart from outright theft of enrollment lists, students are also at risk of identity theft fraud because of shared accommodation which often is not secured, carelessness with use of passwords, failing to log-off after using PCs, and the increased likelihood of hackers on campus.
In addition, the tendency for young people generally to be more trusting and their widespread use of social networking sites have contributed to a massive increase of identity theft through these channels.
Action: Ironically, education is the best weapon to fight identity theft among students -- making them more aware of the risks they face and ensuring they check and reconcile their credit card statements.
As above, you should also monitor their records with the credit reporting agencies and consider identity theft protection.
More directly, perhaps think about installing a small safe in the student's accommodation (if feasible and permissible) or even a locked steel box, plus a shredder.
Medical identity theft
Medical identity theft, while not a new crime, will reflect the distress of those who have become unemployed, the ITRC predicts. High premiums and the inability of individuals to afford insurance or medical care will likely cause a spike in this area of identity theft this year.
As confirmation, the Social Security Administration has noted an increase in uninsured people using the coverage of a friend, relative or even a stranger to get care.
That's just one side of medical identity theft though. As we previously reported in Medical Identity Theft: A Scary Form of Identity Theft Few People Even Know About, hospitals, clinics, medical centers and even doctors' offices are targeted in the theft of individual's personal information for use in the outside world.
In another variation, seniors and veterans have recently been targeted by identity theft scammers requesting credit card information supposedly to arrange refunds and rebates for medical services or for sending out prescriptions.
Action: Regularly checking your credit record and online credit card statements, closely monitoring health insurance statements and considering identify theft insurance or other identity theft protection, are your first line of defense against someone assuming your identity.
It's worth knowing too that your health records are supposed to be protected against identity theft under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules.
Check your insurer's policy statement about compliance.
And, as always, never give your Social Security number or financial information to anyone without first thoroughly checking they are who they say they are.
Three Simple Steps to Reduce the Risk of Identity Theft
Undoubtedly, identity theft in all its guises, will be with us for the foreseeable future but, in addition to the points already listed here, there are a few, very simple things you can do both to substantially reduce the risk of becoming a victim or to deal with it effectively if you're hit.
John Sileo, one of America's top identity theft experts, recommends these three measures:
1. Keep all your sensitive and personal documents in a single, safe place where they are not only protected but also available as a single, complete source of information if your identity is stolen.
2. Set up regular calendar reminders every four months to order and monitor your credit reports. (You're entitled to one free report from each of the three agencies each year.)
3. Monitor all your financial accounts regularly. If possible, get banks and credit card companies to send you a text or email message whenever there's a transaction on your account.
Just remember, when it comes to identity theft, vigilance is your keyword.
Time to close -- we're off to take a walk. See you next week.