Identify fraud, also known as identify theft, is a term used to describe situations where your personal identifying information is stolen by another person or persons and used for their personal gain. For example, someone steals your identification and uses that information to open credit card accounts in your name; or steal your bank information, and, in both cases, use your funds to buy products or services. The result that you are billed thousands of dollars from your credit card company, or your bank account ends up with a zero balance, and even credit card penalties or overdraft fees once your funds or maximum credit limit has been reached.
A perfect example credit card fraud occurred this week in Texas after an investigation that was conducted by the Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Postal Service. It took two years of intensive investigation to find enough evidence to arrest and charge the thieves.
There are numerous ways that identity fraud happens. In some cases, the perpetrator obtains enough information from you mail, your online identity, and even using a device to scan your debit card number and then from watching in a store while you punch in your password. Other ways include stealing prepaid credit offers from your mailbox, completing the information that was not included on the offer (generally minor information and a signature), and mailing it to the company that made the offer in your name. Once that is done, the thief regularly checks your mail and steals the credit card when it arrives.
Fortunately, the United States Department of Justice, DOJ, and state consumer protection agencies are working hard to help prevent identity theft from occurring. For example, a federal federal law was passed in 1998 that made identity theft a crime punishable by imprisonment, fines, restitution, and more.
Identity theft can have devastating effects on the person whose identity has been stolen. Many people have lost their homes and their jobs. Others have been more fortunate – they dealt with companies and banks that allowed them to stop the unlawful charges against their accounts before it got out of hand. In many cases, those institutions reimbursed the victims for their losses. Those were the fortunate victims! Some did not keep a check on their finances and it was months before they discovered that they were in trouble, and had a lot less money than they thought they had.
According to a study coordinated between Greenwich Associates, Lifelock Inc. and Mastercard, the total amount that victims lost in 2015 was more than $15 billion. Due to the measures put in place by both federal and state governments, the number of identity thefts has fallen in 2016, but it is still a major problem. In addition, the thieves are finding more ways to steal your identify as technology advances and people share more and more personal information through social media and other venues.
Identity theft can be devastating. Thieves simply walk away with your money and it is difficult, if not impossible, to find them. Even if found, it is unlikely that they would have the finances necessary to repay the losses that they caused.
While this subject has been covered time and again, it never hurts to put out a reminder to check your finances regularly. The sooner you find a problem, the sooner you can take measures to stop the thief from draining all of your funds.