Home / Weighing the Risks: Should You Worry About Identity Theft?

Weighing the Risks: Should You Worry About Identity Theft?

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Identity thieves are popular media bogeymen these days – those shady characters waiting around every corner to snatch your credit card, your Social Security number and any other information that will help them assume your identity and make fraudulent purchases under your name. A couple years back, Citibank made a series of amusing commercials showing everyday people talking with the rascally voices of the thieves who’d stolen their information (and their bodies, or so it seemed).

But should you really worry about identity theft? And if so, how much? Every day when you step outside a world of risks await you: driving a car, getting on a plane, crossing a street, even eating your lunch. How does identity theft stack up, and what can you even do to stop it?

A report in late January from the Better Business Bureau suggested that the number of identity theft victims has dropped from 4.7% to 4.0% of the population, that most theft occurred in the same old ways — lost or stolen wallets, credit cards, checkbooks — and that Internet theft was rare. Further, of those who found out who took their information, almost half of the thieves were people they knew. And most victims lost more time than money due to theft. They didn’t have to pay fraudulent charges on their credit cards, but they still had to go through the hassle of getting new cards, ID, etc. issued to them.

When Washington Post reporter Caroline Mayer reported this on her blog, she got some vociferous complaints that the survey was sponsored by the financial industry, that it was impossible to assume that most theft was done offline because most people surveyed didn’t know how it happened, and that consumers might not have to pay for identity theft directly, but businesses would pass those costs through one way or another.

Recent news stories about large credit card databases being hacked add fuel to the fire. In the past year, millions of credit card numbers have been vulnerable to theft (if not actually used) from a number of large computer security breeches. Earlier this year, the parent company of the Boston Globe actually wrapped a day’s newspaper bundles with sheets containing subscriber bank data.

What can you do to stop identity theft? Well, you can’t personally secure the credit card databases of every retailer you deal with, but you can keep a close watch on your valuables (even around those you know, according to the BBB survey), or use “virtual” credit cards. You can even stop using credit cards and ATMs altogether, stash your money under your bed and hunker down for the apocalypse. But who wants that?

In today’s world, does the risk of identity theft outweigh the benefits that modern financial technology brings? Should it change the way you live? Has it already?

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About Justin McHenry

  • zingzing

    dude… you bring up questions, but don’t really answer anything. you say no, then you say yes…

    i’d say it’s a problem… 4% of our population is millions of people. if the money isn’t bad enough, the wasted time is another issue, the fact that your credit can be screwed is another, and a stolen identity in the hands of a thief means that there is a criminal running around with access to your presumably good name. crimes can be commited in your name. shit… a criminal could steal your identity, buy a house in your name, kill someone, drop off the corpse in “your” house, buy a car in your name and escape to mexico… leaving you a wanted man. they could, too…

    people should be diligant with their personal information.

  • Identity Theft is not a problem until it happens to you or me! The problem is the FTC reports 9.9 million victims in 2002 alone . . . that is 27,000 victims every day! Sounds to me like “when we are the victim” not “if”. Fortunately, I found a solution. I don’t want the fire department to call me to let me know my house is on fire, I want them to “do something” and put the fire out! I found the only real help for Identity Theft is the Identity Theft Shield from Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. They will actually restore my damage to my good name in the event of identity theft. This site has info on how to protect yourself: http://plan-info.net

  • you know what we the people should conceive? a kickass underground hacker society made up of the web-squad wing and the muscle bound jerks section. I could apply for both. maybe even be the leader. and alls we do all day is hunt down phishers and other punky types exploiting information for egregious selfish instantiation which must be QUELCHED! and basically we like pull a jay and silent bob strikes back but bring the victims to the hackers’ house too! when word gets out about that shimmle (jewish neck of brooklyn), who’s going to hack anyone in the USA? now as for indonesia, china, and the other countries that are actually doing all of this crap…wwwwellll that’s why there’d be a party fund or something so we could fly overseas, kick ass, get bird flu, come back vindicated and kill everyone else off incidentally. or something. oh yah and I had pre-paid legal and their attorneys were desk jockey para-legals who were excellent at filing paperwork I didn’t need to pay 36.95 a month to do myself. if you want real protection, buy black ice software, get a decent router, make a kill switch,
    and stay the hell away from the pentagon because everyone’s already hacked the hell outta that place anyways. aah I’m just kidding whaddaiknow??

  • Identity Theft is More Then Just Headline…….

    To every consumer and Business owner in America Today!

    It’s been said the latest criminals are Stealing Your Soul, and it is the FASTEST GROWING CRIME in America. One out of every eight people has already been a victim of Identity Theft costing citizens and companies more than an estimated 3.3 Billion Dollars, in 2004 alone.

    In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a ball game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, change service providers for your cell phone, or apply for a credit card. Chances are you don’t give these everyday transactions a second thought. But an identity thief does.
    Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years and thousands of dollars cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of a good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims of identity theft may lose job opportunities, be refused loans for education, housing, or cars, and even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. Humiliation, anger, and frustration are among the feelings victims experience as they navigate the process of rescuing their identity.
    Identity theft is a crime of opportunity. Vigilance and awareness is essential in combating the fast growing non-discriminatory crime. For more information on how to protect yourself


  • bob

    My ex-wife forged my signature on a Power of Attorney and bought a new 850,000 dollar house. After we were already separated. The court ordered that the house be sold. She then obtained another fraudulent mortgage and purchased my half.

    The court then ordered that I pay 2000 dollars a month alimony because her mortgage payments were so high.

    The courts, police, FBI, and everyone else did absolutely nothing and I am paying for a huge house that I am not even allowed to visit.

  • And then when you tried to report the fraud to the police they said “that’s a family matter, and we won’t deal with it”, right?

    You may get some help from the Real Estate Board in your state, and may be able to lien or foreclose the property.