Identity Theft Incidents Increasing in United States

Posted in United States | 11-Jun-06 | Author: Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, Vice-President of the US National Association of Chiefs of Police.

The crime of identity theft undermines the basic trust on which our economy depends. When a person takes out an insurance policy, or makes an online purchase, or opens a savings account, he or she must have confidence that personal financial information will be protected and treated with care. Identity theft harms not only its direct victims, but also many businesses and customers whose confidence is shaken. Like other forms of stealing, identity theft leaves the victim poor and feeling terribly violated.

- President George W. Bush

Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another individual's personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.

Unlike fingerprints, which are unique to an individual and cannot be given to someone else for their use, personal data -- especially Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card numbers, telephone calling card numbers, and other valuable identifying data -- can be used by someone to personally profit at the victim's expense.

Unauthorized persons take funds out of others' bank or financial accounts or take over their identities altogether, running up debts and committing crimes while using the victims' names. A victim's losses may include not only out-of-pocket financial losses, but additional costs associated with trying to restore his reputation in the community and correcting erroneous information about his financial or personal status.

An estimated 3.6 million households, or about 3 percent of all households in the nation, learned that they had been the victim of at least one type of identity theft during a six-month period in 2004, according to the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Forty-eight percent had experienced an unauthorized use of credit cards; 25 percent had other accounts, such as banking accounts, used without permission; 15 percent experienced the misuse of personal information and 12 percent experienced multiple types of theft at the same time.

These findings represent six-month estimates based on interviews conducted from July through December 2004 for the BJS National Crime Victimization Survey. The study's preliminary finds were tabulated in April, 2006.

Households headed by young people (18-24 years old), those in urban or suburban areas and those with incomes of $75,000 or more were the most likely to experience identity theft. Victimization did not differ by race or ethnicity.

About one-third of households that were identity theft victims discovered the loss by noticing missing money or unfamiliar charges on an account, and about one-quarter were contacted by a credit bureau. The estimated loss during the 6-month period was about $3.2 billion. This included losses that may have been reimbursed by credit card companies, insurance companies or other financial institutions.

About two-thirds of the households said they lost money. The average loss was $1,290. Some households for which misuse was still ongoing at the time of the interview may have continued to suffer losses.

About one-quarter of all victimized households said the misuse had not stopped. The misuse was more likely to have stopped for households experiencing credit card theft (78 percent) than those experiencing theft of other existing accounts (65 percent) or the misuse of personal information (54 percent).

One-third of the victimized households experienced one or more problems caused by identity theft. The most common problem was being contacted by a debt collector (34 percent), followed by problems with bank accounts (31 percent) and credit cards (26 percent)

About one in five households spent at least one month resolving their problems. One-third said the problems were resolved in one day. At the time of the interview about one-sixth said the misuse was still causing problems.

The survey questions were asked of one household member, who provided information about other property crimes the entire household may have suffered. The survey did not obtain information on which household members were victims.

Identity theft questions were added to the BJS crime survey in July 2004. Only 6 months of data were available for analysis. Annual prevalence estimates will be published when data are available for 2005.

New methods of identity theft continue to appear. For example, a form of identity theft called phishing gained prominence. Phishing involves creating and using e-mails and Web sites designed to look like those of well-known, legitimate businesses, financial institutions, and government agencies to deceive Internet users into disclosing their personal information (e.g., bank and financial account information, usernames, passwords). The phishers then take that information and use it for criminal purposes, such as identity theft and fraud.

Various federal and numerous state and local law enforcement agencies are responsible for investigating identity theft crimes. The division of the Office of Training Operations, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, designs, develops, coordinates, and administers training programs related to the investigation of financial and high-technology crimes for FLETC's participating organizations. It also provides training to other Federal, State, local or foreign law enforcement organizations on a "space available" basis. Organizations representing police officers and investigators are providing training as well.

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he's a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He's a news writer for TheConservativeVoice.Com. He's also a columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he's syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com. Jim Kouri is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) of the American Society for Industrial Security.

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