Identity theft—someone stealing your personal information to use for illegal purposes—is a crime that is growing exponentially worldwide. A 2013 report by Javelin Strategy & Research estimated that 12.6 million Americans had been victims of identity theft in 2012. The report also found that nearly 1 in 4 data breach letter recipients became a victim of identity fraud, with breaches involving Social Security numbers to be the most damaging.
Stealing a person's identity is easier now than at any time in the past, thanks to computers and public access to personal data. Criminals know that businesses are reluctant to prosecute individual cases and often consider losses a "cost of doing business."
Many state laws consider the victim to be the business that was defrauded—not the person whose identity was stolen. While these laws are gradually being changed, the very nature of the crime makes the perpetrator difficult to identify and prosecute.
For these reasons, the victim of identity fraud must personally take steps to limit damage to his or her financial standing, credit history and peace of mind. There is no shortcut to fixing problems caused by identity theft, and the process could take months. The average victim spends at least 30 hours to resolve the situation.
Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft
- Guard your financial information. Only disclose your credit card or bank account number when you’re paying for something with it.
- Keep your Social Security number confidential. Don’t give it to anyone unless you’re sure who it is and why they need it. Ask your health insurer, the Department of Motor Vehicle Safety and others who may use this as your ID number to give you a substitute number.
- Beware of imposters. Be especially suspicious if you get a call or e-mail from someone claiming to be from a company you do business with, asking for information they should already have on file. (In its most common form, this ruse is known as “phishing.”) Contact the company directly to confirm the validity of the message.
- Keep your mail safe. Collect it promptly from your mailbox and ask the Post Office to hold it while you’re away. Send bill payments from the Post Office or a public mailbox.
- Get off credit marketing lists. Mailings for pre-approved offers of credit are a gold mine for identity thieves, who steal them and apply for credit. Get off these lists by calling 888-567-8688 (your Social Security number will be required).
- Lock it up. Keep your personal information locked up at home, at work, at school and elsewhere so that no one else will have easy access to it. Don’t leave PIN numbers or passwords in your wallet or on your desk; memorize them.
- Stay safe online. Don’t send sensitive information such as credit card numbers by e-mail, since it’s not secure. When you’re asked to provide financial or other sensitive information on web sites, the letters at the beginning of the address bar should change from “http” to “https” or “shttp,” indicating that your information is being encrypted, or scrambled, to transmit it safely.
- Check your credit reports regularly. If you find accounts that don't belong to you or other incorrect information, follow the instructions for disputing those items. The Georgia Fair Business Practices Act [O.C.G.A. Section 10-1-393(b)(28)(C)] gives you the right to receive two free credit reports a year from the national credit-reporting agencies. More information about getting free credit reports is available from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov/credit or by calling 877-382-4357.
The Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) encourages victims of identity theft to report your experience immediately to your local law enforcement officials (police department or sheriff's office.) OCP does assist local law enforcement officials and provides information to help victims deal with the aftermath of this crime.
Help for Victims Is a Phone Call or Click Away
If you are a victim of identity theft, what should you do? OCP has prepared a comprehensive list of step-by-step recommendations to help you clear your name, protect your resources and increase your sense of personal security.