Nichole Davila- Sanchez, ‘Doah Contributing Writer
April 4, 2014
If you hear the phrase “identity theft” you may picture the person behind you in line at the register, or perhaps you may imagine losing your wallet and it disappearing into the rip tide of a busy street. You are right on both counts that identity theft can happen in these ways but these are other ways that your identity can be stolen. While this has been an issue since the con was invented, it has only been within the last century that it has been blared at public like a fog horn over the hazy ocean.
This crime has been evolving over time. It was first observed to be coming from criminal organizations, such as the drug cartel, but smaller con rings of three or four individuals were also caught in the act. It got to the point where in 1998 Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act in order to help deal with the increasing issue of identity theft. This made it illegal to “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
Since the end of 2013, there have been a few large chain stores like Kohl’s, Home Depot, Kmart, Target and Sears that were hit by large scale identity theft scams. The criminals stole the identities of more than 180 people, and the stores lost approximately one million dollars in retail. The perpetrators of this unlawful act cannot only use personal names, date of birth, social security number and address in order to steal from from their unsuspecting victims but they can also use Medicare number, birth certificates, passport numbers, financial account numbers (like for a bank account or credit card), passwords, telephone numbers and biometric data like fingerprints and iris scans. These are a lot of “keys” to become another person and they are acquired by pickpocketing, dumpster diving, cyber-hacking and pretexting, which is calling you under false pretenses in order to gain information about you. Hackers can also steal your information using a device that can scan a card that is being processed other wise known as skimming.
The level of organization and sophistication in this felony is steadily increasing and the law enforcers are kept extremely busy. In her interview with NPR’s David Green, Nina Olson who is a National Taxpayer Advocate at the Internal Revenue Service, stated that in 2013 “the IRS closed almost one million cases in identity theft.” The FBI has announced that between 2008 and 2013, the compilation of the entire bureau’s identity theft investigations have resulted in more than 1,600 convictions, $78.6 billion in the restoration of stolen property, $4.6 billion in recoveries and $6.8 billion in fines.
This growing, faceless beast is not unbeatable however bleak it may seem. There are ways to protect yourself from this, and they are very simple everyday precautions that could save you a headache later. By blacking out and shredding documents with your personal information you can help stop dumpster diving rustlers. Staying aware about when you bills and bank statements arrive and what they say will help you keep track of things. Don’t carry your social security card and when traveling, use a prepaid credit cards like the ones you can buy at a supermarket. Deactivating all the credit, debit, and bank cards you don’t use will not only keep your wallet clean but also keep burglars from stealing you. Lastly take extra precautions at the ATM in case someone wants to steal your PIN. For example, try not visit the ATM at 7 PM but if you had to for any reason then it would be prudent to memorize your number before you even exiting your car. Then when you approach the machine, watch your surroundings, check to make sure the bank’s security camera does not have a skimming device attached to it, and use a pen on the ATM’s keypad you can keep people from knowing which numbers you used.
These tricks may sound like something bordering on paranoia, but as criminals grow smarter, and law enforcement becomes more bogged down with cases, then taking the initiative is not wrong. So with these few and non-wallet-straining tips you can better armor yourself from falling victim and losing who you are in the system.