The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. The term «identity theft» was not even coined until a few years ago. These days we seem to hear it every time we turn on the television or open a magazine.

But what is the real truth about identity theft? The United States Department of Justice offers this definition: «Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer 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.» So how real is this threat? Several of the world’s largest banks and data collection agencies have suffered fraud affecting millions of people. The IRS has stated that their networks of personal and financial records are not well protected. It appears that we are all at risk for identity theft, and there may not be anything we can do about it. In fact, many people who are at risk don’t even realize it. So what are some ways to stop identity theft? How do you know if you are putting yourself at risk of becoming a victim? Take, for example, your driver’s license or health insurance card. In many instances, the account or license number is the same as your Social Security number. Calling a pharmacy, doctor’s office, or car insurance company will often lead to you being asked for your Social Security number as a means of identification. Your personal checks often include your name, address, bank account number, and signature. They’re often supplemented at the store’s request with your phone number and driver’s license number or Social Security number. An unscrupulous store clerk may easily gain access to all this information. No matter what type of data you are providing, whether it’s to your doctor’s office, your pharmacy, your bank, stores you make purchases from, schools, or even the IRS, this information has a chance of being compromised. The internet has made spreading and selling the information not only easier, but more anonymous for the criminals. The volume of information in today’s society makes identity theft an ever-present danger. Recently, companies have begun adapting to the changing environment and recognizing the very real threat that identity theft poses. Those with large databases of personal and financial information are being required to better protect that data.

The United States government has joined by prosecuting identity theft criminals. Credit card companies, banks, and insurance companies have begun to offer identity theft insurance. Here are several places to search on the internet if you would like to learn more about identity theft and identity fraud, and what government programs have been implemented to help curb this financial threat. Department of Justice: www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/idtheft.html Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.org Identity Theft Resource Center: www.idtheftcenter.org Consult with your bank, your credit card companies, and your insurance company to see what steps they are taking to help prevent identity theft. Find out what coverage they can offer to protect you in case it happens to you. Make sure that you do business with companies which are supporting government legislation to curb identity theft and identity fraud. The truth is that identity theft is out there. It’s not just a scare tactic used by insurance companies to sell needless coverage to unsuspecting clients. The threat is very real, but with research and information, you can help lower your risk of becoming one of its victims.

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