The Risk of Identity Theft Is Higher Than Ever This Holiday Season

Identity theft refers to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves
fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.  Identity theft is a serious crime, the effects of which can take years to correct, not to mention the enormous amounts of time and the overall inconvenience that are required. 

Identity theft is a serious enough topic that there is good reason to write about it any time of year.  But right now, there are more reasons than ever.  First, there’s the current state of the economy.  In difficult economic times, theft traditionally increases as people become more desperate in the search for resources.  Second, it’s the holiday season, when the need for extra money increases, right along with depression rates and anxiety levels. Third, internet shopping continues to be a popular alternative to the stressful hustle and bustle of the mall.  Add these factors together and it’s difficult to imagine identity theft rates slowing down significantly any time soon.  image

Just last week, a coworker mentioned that she had recently had her credit card number “skimmed” at a gas station.  She didn’t realize the theft had occurred, though, until Monday morning when she checked her online bank account and was stunned to see that the account was substantially overdrawn!  Another coworker said that she too had been subject to a similar fraud, though the credit card company had not been able to determine exactly how it had occurred. 

I experienced the same type of theft recently when my credit card number was used to make thousands of dollars in online purchases over the course of a few hours.  The number of purchases triggered my bank’s security alerts and I was called to confirm the purchases.  Thankfully, the bank’s quick efforts prevented any damage from being done.  But this conversation between three coworkers shows how surprisingly common identity theft really is. 

When it comes to protecting your personal information, awareness is key.  Below is a short summary of some of the basics about identity theft.  Employers should keep themselves and their employees in the loop by circulating this type of information during the holiday season.

How Does the Thief Get the Identity Information?

  • Steals credit cards, wallets, or purses.
  • Steals mail to obtain checks and credit-card numbers.
  • Rummaging through trash to find documents containing personal identifying information.
  • Completes a change-of-address form on behalf of the victim, thereby diverting the individual’s mail.
  • Use personal-identifying information obtained on the internet.
  • Theft of business records either by stealing records or files or by bribing an employee to do the same.
  • E-mail “phishing”– a scam where the thief pretends to a bank or the government.
  • Obtaining a copy of the victim’s credit report by posing as a landlord or other person who would have a lawful right to the information.

What Does the Thief Do With the Identify Information?

  • Go on spending sprees using your credit card
  • Open new credit card accounts
  • Open new checking accounts using your name,date of birth and social security number to write
    bad checks
  • Change the address on your credit card accounts
  • Take out auto loans in your name
  • Rent a home in your name
  • File for government benefits using your name (unemployment insurance)
  • Give your name to police during an arrest
  • Establish phone and wireless service in your name
  • Declare bankruptcy in your name to avoid paying debts or eviction

Some of the national resources available to learn more about preventing, reporting, and correcting identity theft include the Identity Theft Resource Center, the Federal Trade Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice

In Delaware, the Office of the State Bank Commission has developed several helpful outreach and education programs.  And, for additional information specific to employers trying to assist employees who’ve been subject to a data security breach, see What to Do If Your Employees’ Private Data Is Stolen.

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