Each month, the Identity Theft Resource Center compiles the data from its toll-free call center to get a better sense of what types of identity theft crimes are affecting the public. By categorizing each victim case by the type of identity theft it corresponds to, the ITRC can then help law enforcement agencies and policymakers understand the trends that are actually having an impact.
Throughout the course of 2016, the ITRC saw some standard fluctuations in the different forms of the crime. As is to be expected, financial identity theft held the top spot every month. This category includes the opening of new accounts for everything from loans, credit cards, checking accounts, cell phones, and utilities.
Government identity theft continues to place second among the various types of identity theft. There are a wide variety of ways government identity theft can manifest—including getting a job under someone else’s name or applying for government benefits using someone else’s identity—but the real money is in tax return fraud. This happens when a thief uses the stolen personally identifiable information to file a tax return with inflated numbers, then has that refund payment rerouted to himself. Often, the victim only finds out about the crime after his legitimate tax return is rejected for being a duplicate. Again, the record numbers of data breaches in recent years and the resulting abundance of stolen records for sale online means that taxpayers’ complete identities are available to thieves looking to steal tax refunds.
Interestingly, these two categories of identity theft crimes are represented in more than 87% of the victim calls in 2016, despite the fact that there are four more recognized categories.
The lower incidence rates of the other types of identity theft should in no way serve to cause you to let your guard down about those other types, however. The alarming thing about the remaining four categories is that they can have far-reaching and lasting consequences. Medical identity theft (3.2% of calls last year) can have an impact on your medical records and on your future treatment, while criminal identity theft (7.6%) can impact your job and your ability to gain employment, enter the military, and more. Child identity theft (4.4%) often goes undetected for years, only coming to light when the now-grown victim applies for a job, seeks financial aid, or tries to enlist in the military. And while internet takeover (10.2%) might seem like the stuff of Hollywood thrillers, the reality is it can have serious impacts on your job and your relationships.
There’s something very important to remember about identity theft crimes. A quick look at the percentages will demonstrate that the numbers don’t add up to a solid 100%. Why is that? Because once your information has been compromised, a thief can commit a wide variety of related crimes with it. From opening new accounts to applying for SNAP benefits to using it to get prescription drugs, the victims rarely only face one type of crime. That’s why it’s important to understand how secure your information is, to stay on top of your credit and accounts, and to protect your technology with strong, unique passwords at all times.
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