It may surprise you to know just how many people would like to be you, or at least, spend money as you. Identity theft is an equal opportunity kind of crime. It can occur through the mail, over the phone, via email, face-to-face, or even remotely. Specific forms of identity theft such as phishing have already been touched on in previous chapters, but it’s worth taking a look at the bigger picture, since identity theft is one of the most well known and widespread forms of fraud in operation today.
A study by Javelin Strategy & Research revealed that nearly 10 million Americans learned they were victims of identity fraud in 2008. According to the Federal Trade Commission, credit card fraud is the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by phone or utilities fraud, employment fraud, and bank fraud. Identity thieves set up new credit card, phone and utility accounts using the names and personal information of their victims. They may also use existing accounts to pay for goods and services. Stolen identities are utilized to obtain loans, file fraudulent tax returns, forge documents, apply for government benefits, rent property, and do just about anything that requires a name, address, and Social Security number.
Stealing someone’s identity can be as simple as someone rifling through a co-worker’s purse when she steps away from her desk. It can be a more organized effort to monitor postal routes and intercept mail. And it can be on a grand scale. A hospital worker in New York was charged with stealing nearly 50,000 patient files and selling some of them. Hospitals, along with credit card companies, retail outlets, universities and government agencies are among the institutions that maintain large databases and are therefore fertile ground for identity thieves.