Each month, the Identity Theft Resource Center categorizes the consumer help requests that come into the 24-hour toll-free call center. By following up on the types of identity theft complaints that the public brings, the ITRC can then establish a clearer picture for law enforcement, policymakers, and even everyday citizens in order to know where the actual threats to personal data security lie.
August was a fairly typical month in terms of the percentages of calls regarding the different types of identity theft complaints. Financial identity theft once again topped the list of calls with 54.1% of consumer complaints falling into that category. Financial identity theft, which occurs when a thief has used your personal identifiable information to open new lines of credit or make major purchases like cars or homes, is almost always the top complaint. The only month this year when it was not the highest reported issue was March, when Government identity theft moved into first place due to the higher incidences of tax return fraud that are typical for that time of year.
Government identity theft, which has held the second place spot for every other reporting month in 2015, can also include benefits fraud. This can occur when identity thieves or even friends or family members of the victim apply for unemployment benefits, disability benefits, or other forms of public assistance like housing or SNAP (food stamp program) benefits while using someone else’s information. Government identity theft accounted for over 30% of the calls to the ITRC call center in August.
The consistent third place complaint throughout 2015 was Internet takeover, and August was no different as 15.8% of the consumer calls pertained to this issue. This happens when a cybercriminal gains access to enough of your personal data to lock you out of your online accounts. It typically starts with your email address; the hacker changes your email password in order to block your access to it. From there, it’s a simple matter of going to all of the major websites—such as Amazon, PayPal, Facebook, or the major credit card and banking websites—entering your email address, then clicking “forgot my password.” The reset link will be sent to your email, which the criminal now controls. He can use those reset links to change all of your passwords on those sites and then do pretty much as he pleases.
While August’s reports were similar to previous months, one surprising increase in calls involved Medical identity theft. This particular complaint experienced its second highest percentage of calls last month over the rest of the year, meaning there was only one other month (January) when it was so highly reported. Medical identity theft, as the name implies, happens when someone uses your information to seek medical care, and of all the types of identity theft this single form can have the more dire consequences. If a thief uses your information to get medical treatment, his health history becomes part of your record. If he’s being treated for high blood pressure or diabetes, for example, you may also be treated for those conditions if you’re brought to the emergency room. Your doctor could also change your medication during a routine checkup once he discovers your “false” health condition. Even more upsetting to consumers is the fact that patient privacy regulations still protect the criminal, which can make it difficult for you to find out what’s in your health record once it has been used fraudulently.
If you have an identity theft problem or would like more information on the issue, please call our toll-free helpline at 888.400.5530. Advisors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you.