ID Thievery Up Close
You feel this loss of control that someone’s out there pretending to be you and doing things in your name, that can come back to haunt you. (Tom Karr, ID Theft victim).
Tom Karr's loss - of identity, money, time and a feeling of control - is sadly all too familiar. Over 8.3 million American adults (3.7 percent of all American adults surveyed) were victims of identity theft in 2005 alone, according to a recently released report* by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Based on adults surveyed:
- 3.2 million (1.4 percent), experienced misuse of their existing credit card accounts.
- Another 3.3 million (1.5 percent), experienced misuse of non-credit card accounts.
- 85% of all ID theft victims reported that one or more of their existing accounts had been misused (including credit card, checking, or savings accounts; telephone service accounts; Internet payment accounts; email and other Internet accounts; and medical insurance accounts).
As daunting as these numbers may be, it is the stories behind the stats that make them real, especially when they hit close to home. A Brown employee shared some of the details of his recent experience with us. (Name withheld, as victims of ID theft are advised to maintain a low profile about their identity being compromised).
The most startling aspect of the story was that the victim had done everything right in protecting his identity, followed all recommended precautions for avoiding ID theft: using a shredder on all mail with personal information, protecting Social Security numbers, locking bank information in a safe, even having credit monitoring in place.
So how was his identity compromised? According to the victim:
The theft appears to have been an inside job in which some employee with access to personal info sold the information to a professional ID thief. It's thought that this is becoming the most common way that someone's ID is compromised. In this case: Someone managed to get enough personal info to call and cancel an existing credit card and request that the new card be sent to a bogus address.
Once they got the new card, they proceeded to run up about $15,000 in purchases, mostly in fairly small batches at convenience stores. At the same time, they used the card to open up other cards and lines of credit with 17 different stores--everything from Home Depot to J C Penny to Kay Jewelers.
Most of these were suspected as fraud or were prevented from being finalized by a credit alert placed on the account. But several cards were issued, and all of them performed checks which affect our credit report. The initial "stolen" card was canceled once it was apparent what was happening, and the issuing bank assumed responsibility for the purchases made.
As for the damage done by the other cards, the clean up around that is much more cumbersome and will probably continue for years.
As this victim's story illustrates, even the most diligent consumer can be affected. It's therefore not only important to learn how to deter ID theft, but to be able to detect it, and then defend yourself should a theft occur. For more information on how you can prevent ID theft as well as the steps you can take should your identity be stolen, please read IT Security's ID Theft resource page. It contains details on how to obtain your free annual credit reports, as well as links to the three credit reporting agencies, the Social Security Administration, and other helpful resources.
IT Security also has copies of the FTC's workbook "Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft", that steps victims through the process of addressing their problems plus the booklets "ID Theft: What IT's All About", "Stop - Think - Click" 7 Practices for Safer Computing" and more. Please write to ITSecurity@brown.edu if you are interested in obtaining a copy.
* The survey was based on a total of 4,917 interviews from a random sample of U.S. adults age 18 and older, conducted between March 27 and June 11, 2006. The complete report is available at www.ftc.gov/os/2007/11/SynovateFinalReportIDTheft2006.pdf.