What if I were to tell you that 15 million Americans fall victim to identity theft every single year? Would you say “no way” or “not possible?”
How about if I said that upwards of $50 billion in losses was accrued from those fifteen million cases? Also seems too high, doesn’t it?
Well, both are nothing but the truth; fifteen million people and fifty billion dollars. The statistics are staggering and frightening.
It gets worse. Just because those fifteen million people have their information stolen, that doesn’t mean there aren’t many more at risk.
In fact, 100 million Americans are at risk every year when personal data and information gets lost and/or stolen from government and corporate databases.
These statistics are undeniably intimidating but should also serve as a wakeup call.
Identity thieves are outsmarting the system
Not only are those numbers climbing, but the level at which this is happening is diversifying. Thieves are going to greater and greater lengths to achieve their goals.
The methods are more sophisticated than ever and the accounts and services being stolen are expanding as well.
They’ve become so savvy that these people are often considered “professional” identity and information thieves.
Basic methods such as stealing wallets and purses, dumpster diving, and even stealing mail are common practices that, although primitive in comparison, never fail to elude the risk.
More avenues of obtaining information elicits additional opportunities to not only get even more information, but to get the information directly from the person they’re stealing it from.
One scenario is when the first layer of your information gets stolen somehow, some way, by somebody.
They may call you disguising as a customer service representative, but it’s when they already have your information that you begin to feel more comfortable with them.
Assuming they’re legitimate because they have your info in-hand may be the kiss of death as you may become more likely to disclose deeper information.
This “lead generation” method has become one of the most dangerous and widespread techniques out there for active and potential thieves.
What used to be nothing more than physical credit cards being stolen has grown to much more.
Basic financial information theft via credit card, debit card, and checking and savings accounts is still very much alive.
Phone, cable, satellite TV, and Internet services are being fraudulently hacked. Mortgages, rent payments, and installments of transportation financing are all at risk as well.
Identity thieves operate without any limitations on their actions. They care very little, if at all, about the negative affects others will feel.
Thieves will use stolen identities and information for employment purposes; they’re also privy to deceiving police under fake and fraudulent identities.
Identity thieves almost never get caught
Given the unpredictable nature based on a countless number of opportunities for modern day hackers and thieves, it’s no surprise why these fraudsters are so hard to catch.
In a study done in 2006, “only 1 in 700 identity theft suspects were arrested by federal authorities (0.14%).”
Just to provide some perspective and comparison, 44.3% of violent crime suspects were arrested as well as 15.8% of alternative property crimes.
It’s safe to say that identity thieves are far more likely to get away with their crimes. Why is that number so low?
We can probably attribute that to the fact that it is not as much of a priority as violent crimes.
Another reason is that many cyber criminals don’t live or operate inside the United States, making the pursuit even more difficult.
It requires extra efforts, attention, and communication by and with police and government officials.
Another alarming number is 85, as in 85% of identity theft victims don’t realize for up to a year if not longer.
And to piggyback that stat, 60% of all victims never report it.
Similar to other crimes, such as rape, assault, and more, victims often feel embarrassed and ashamed, or are too shy to seek restitution.
That may be the most shocking statistic of all.
You need to report fraud
Conversely, 60% of identity stealers don’t get caught simply because their crimes are never reported to the authorities.
Are we, as individuals, naïve? Could we be too trusting? Perhaps we can be both and too often at that. And who can we trust?
About half of reported identity fraud cases come at the hand of family, friends, and co-workers. You can never be too careful.
When it comes to personal information, it’s imperative to keep emphasis on the personal part.
A CBS News report elaborated on those same issues, and that same report unveiled some more eye-opening problems with stopping and catching identity thieves.
The University of Central Florida’s Police Chief Richard Beary feels so strongly about putting an end to this epidemic, all stemming from a personal score to settle.
He went to buy a new phone at a local AT&T boutique.
After agreeing to submit a credit check, he was subsequently (note: unknowingly) handing his information off to a convicted felon who was prepared to act quickly with her newly acquired “identity.”
Almost immediately after signing away his personal and private information, his credit card account was hit with a $1,500 hotel charge.
Beary continued to tell CBS News’ Crimesider that the majority of people would handle that situation by calling their bank or credit card company to dispute the charge, put a stop to accounts, or anything of the like; and it ends there for most people.
Very few will then file a police report, and, if you think about it, that’s really the only way of putting an end to that person’s crimes.
When victims “let it go”, he says, there is no action of filing a police report, indicating that a crime has been committed.
Going off of that fact alone, it’s theoretically impossible for an offender to be caught, and stopped, if the police don’t know about it.
Take a step back and think about why that may happen.
You’re alerted about a questionably fraudulent charge on your credit card. Your first instinct is to call the credit card company, dispute the charge, and freeze your card temporarily.
The issue gets resolved shortly after that. Your charge is reversed, and that’s likely to be the end of it. Why bother chasing someone down after your issue is resolved?
And therein lies part of the issue.
Authorities still trying to catch up
Eva Velasquez, the CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, explains that thieves have gotten so creative in their methods, that it takes the IRS years to catch up to them.
That means that it took years to simply understand what these people were doing and how they were doing it, not even factoring in the following actions of actually catching those people.
The police are still playing catch up as well.
Evidently it’s a tall task that most people don’t want to take on; again, it’s not as high priority as violent crimes, so the sense of urgency isn’t there unfortunately.
The “Dark Web” or “Deep Web”, as described in the article, is essentially the black market for buying and selling stolen information and identities.
It’s an entirely new “market” that is difficult to infiltrate and nearly impossible to stop with today’s easy access to the internet.
In short, your credit card number that got stolen can be sold over and over again to dozens of people across the world. Once it’s out there, it spreads like wildfire.
According to Eva, “This isn’t something that can be fixed, your information is out there.”
When a person is in possession of somebody else’s identity, they can virtually live their life as that other person.
They have their information, so in a way, they are that person.
From there, they can continue the trend and steal another identity, acting as that first alias. And on and on it goes, leaving a nearly untraceable trail.
A case that lasted over five years resulted in earning the accolade of being the largest identity theft scam in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s history.
Matthew Kent Ii was eventually caught after defrauding almost 200 people; and he saw a total of zero days in jail.
In exchange for disclosing his entire operation in full detail, Ii received immunity for his identity theft crimes.
This makes you think that perhaps criminals are more likely to attempt identity theft if they know that they can potentially evade jail time down the road.
A precedent was set when police essentially let this guilty man walk in order to obtain information that they could use in future cases.
Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has experienced a breach first hand.
The Clinton Foundation was breached by high-level Russian Hackers. Thousands of documents and emails, along with other private information, were stolen as a result from the thievery.
Thousands of government officials were targeted in this cyber-attack including important advisers, lawyers, and more.
The FBI, U.S. Secret Service, and National Security Agency are all deeply entrenched in this investigation, but the harm has already been done.
There’s a potential risk for much deeper-rooted threats, which government officials obviously hope to contain, but this should serve as a message to all about the severity of identity theft.
It goes to show that no person is immune to identity theft all the way from Average Joe up to Secretary Clinton.