How Identity Theft Is Committed

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Identity theft attracts thieves for many different reasons, and as a result it has become a crime that is committed in many different ways. Here's just a shortlist of the most common forms of identity theft related crimes:

  • Computer hacking hits the headlines frequently as the cause of some of the biggest identity thefts, and that's likely to continue.
  • Mail theft is also popular, either as the beginning and end of a crime, or as a first step to a more complex crime.
  • Insider crimes are on the rise, usually committed by trusted employees and even family members.
  • Dumpster diving has always been popular with thieves, and involves searching through garbage looking for discarded financial information from consumers who neglected to go through the simple act of paper shredding.
  • Check theft is also popular and can involve anything from stealing incoming and outgoing checks from mailboxes, to employees just stealing individual checks from a company checkbook.
  • Burglary is also playing a role in identity theft, and burglars know that it's now much easier and more profitable to steal a copy of a tax return than a used stereo.
  • Car theft can lead to a stolen identity if your wallet, briefcase, purse, or laptop happens to be in the car at the time.
  • Hard-drive rebuilding is a very easy way to find sensitive information, especially if you don't properly erase data on old hard drives — the computer version of paper shredding.
  • Laptop theft has almost become an art in itself, and there have even been cases of organized gangs offering different bounties for different types of laptops, hoping they'll have plenty of usable personal information stored on them.
  • Theft of credit card receipts in restaurants and stores can also be a big problem, one that's very hard to stop.
  • And Internet and phishing scams are also on the rise.

Identity theft statistics from a survey released in April 2004 by research firm InsightExpress offered interesting insight into how Americans think identity theft will occur:

  • 86% of Americans believe identity theft will occur as a result of a stolen wallet.
  • 65% believe identity theft will happen as a result of theft of a credit card number on the Internet through online scams such as phishing.
  • 64% expect identity theft to occur when mail is stolen from an unlocked mailbox.
  • 58% believe identity theft will happen as a result of "dumpster diving" — searching through trash bins for un-shredded documents - increasing the importance of paper shredding.
  • 56% believe identity theft will happen as a result of fraudulent access to credit reports.
  • 46% believe identity theft will happen as a result of "shoulder surfing" at ATMs to capture PIN numbers.
  • 54% believe they will be victimized as a result of their name and Social Security Number being stolen from personnel or customer files in the workplace where employers are negligent of paper shredding.

"Three out of five consumers are telling us that banks are not doing enough to educate them on how to protect against identity theft, as most are learning about it through television commercials and/or news reports. Credit card issuers and primary banks stand a better chance of capturing and retaining customers if they take a more proactive approach in educating and protecting consumers against the threat," said Lee Smith, president and COO of InsightExpress, the research company that provided these identity theft statistics.

Identity theft statistics from the study also found that:

  • An overwhelming majority of Americans (85%) are concerned that ID theft could happen to them.
  • Americans have trepidation about credit card purchases, since there is a possibility their credit card number could be stolen.
  • 37% say the online purchasing environment carries the greatest risk of identity theft, followed by telephone purchases (34%) and in-person purchases (10%).
  • Almost half of consumers (48%) expect that they would be at least partly responsible for charges made on their credit card should they become a victim.
  • Almost three out of five (58%) say the person who stole the credit card is responsible, followed by the institution that issues the credit card (33%), the institution that approves the credit card charge (29%), and the merchants (26%).

Privacy Matters IdentitySM encourages you to use common sense to deter identity thieves:

  • Use a locked mailbox, and pick up your deliveries daily to prevent mail theft.
  • Get in the habit of paper shredding.
  • Carefully monitor the handling of your credit card during store purchases.
  • Make online purchases with well-known e-stores.
  • Be suspicious of phishing scams that request personal information.
  • Don't leave valuables and personal information in your car.
  • Keep your computer protection software up-to-date; that can help safeguard you from identity theft.
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