Identity Theft and Terrorism

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Identity theft, by all accounts, has reached epidemic proportions. If the crime statistics are to be believed, in the time it takes you to read just this first line, another American will fall victim to the life-changing crime of identity theft. By this time tomorrow, a further 19,000 Americans will have experienced the same fate. And not only will the experience change their lives, possibly for years to come, its impact will only add to the changes the entire nation is facing in response to this chilling epidemic.

Financial security used to mean having enough money to meet our future financial needs. Today it means guarding our financial identity around the clock from hordes of criminals bent on depriving us of it.

Identity theft has not only changed the lives of millions of victims, it is also changing the way America lives, works, and conducts business, and forcing citizens to abandon decades-old traditions to accommodate new threats.

Stolen identities are changing the way we trust family, friends, and strangers. Because so many ID thefts are committed by people we know, including family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and employees, we're now being forced to assume the worst in these people in order to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm.

Internet Identity theft is also changing the way we communicate. For example, it is no longer safe to assume that just because an email says, looks, and sounds like it's from your bank that it is from your bank. Emails from seemingly credible sources could, in fact, be part of a phishing scam. Phishing, a form of Internet identity theft, is the illegal practice of sending out emails that claim to be from a financial institution, Internet service provider or other company, but in fact are not. The phishing email will direct the recipient to a dummy website that resembles the real company's website. This dummy website will prompt you to provide personal information that identity thieves can use for illicit purposes.

Phishing scams have become so widespread and convincing that it's now a much safer path to assume that any email communications from a bank or credit card company should be doubted until proven otherwise. Sadly, phishing will only continue to grow.

Our postal system is under threat. The tradition of having your mail delivered to and collected from an open mailbox, at your front door or the end of your driveway, is now being threatened because of the temptation it offers identity thieves, drug users, and opportunists. Until recently, those people who swore they would never bank online because of security fears are now rushing to the Internet to make online payments because it offers a safer alternative to putting the check in the mail.

While online banking may be a safer alternative to postal delivery, consumers still need to be vigilant about Internet Identity Theft.

One of the reasons ID theft has grown so fast in America is the increasing demand for easy access to credit. But while trying to accommodate our endless demands, consumer-friendly creditors have also made it much easier for identity thieves to apply for credit by using our identities.

The only solution may be to change the credit and banking system, adding additional and perhaps time-consuming layers of identification and authentication, and perhaps returning to the face-to-face credit application.

Despite the enormous benefits of computers, networking, and the Internet, it seems like every new product we buy punches new holes in our security and poses yet another concern over Internet identity theft. With so many security vulnerabilities being discovered in the many technologies we depend on, we're already seeing issues like price, quality, reliability, and support taking a back seat to security when making purchasing decisions.

We cannot depend solely on technology to protect us from Internet identity theft. We must remain ever vigilant by using safe online transaction practices.

When was the last time you were stalked by Russian organized crime? Or by a waiter? Identity theft has made us all targets to all kinds of criminals, from drug users to organized crimes gangs and professionals hackers. Never in history have so many citizens been square in the sights of so many criminal groups, all after the same thing.

Identity theft crimes couldn't have surged at a worse time, beginning to climb at the same time that the dot.com tailspin threw the economy into chaos and hastened a recession. And that was at about the same time terrorists attacked America and triggered a series of global conflicts that have siphoned much-needed funds and attention from local law enforcement. All that combined has created an atmosphere of insecurity and vulnerability to a crime that we can't see until it's too late.

Stolen identities are also fueling, and being fueled by, the biggest drug epidemic in American history. There's a direct connection between identity theft crime rise and America's meth epidemic, as meth users turn to crime as a way to feed their habits. That has brought meth users directly into the neighborhoods, homes, and lives of millions of victims who would never have even heard of the problem otherwise.

Identity theft crime is changing the way the police operate and the way citizens view the police. Most police departments still refuse to even investigate identity theft because there are just too many incidents, they're almost impossible to solve to anyone's satisfaction, and they're rarely prosecuted.

This leaves most identity theft victims angry, frustrated, and disillusioned with what they see as police complacency to a life-changing crime that impacts victims in so many ways. It is also changing the way police view themselves, probably for the first time as completely helpless and unable to do much to halt a crime spree that they don't fully understand and don't have the resources to combat.

ID theft surged at just the same time terrorists around the globe were looking for easier ways to enter America, blend in to our communities, and hide in plain sight until called to action. Identity thieves are there to greet terrorists, standing at the airports and the borders with a Welcome sign and a bag full of driver's licenses — legitimate documents belonging to legitimate citizens but cloned for a much more sinister purpose.

Identity theft and terrorism will continue to create conflict within law enforcement. Police forces and government agencies are stretched thin combating terrorism. Many times, identity theft and terrorism are only linked when the former leads enforcement officials to criminals that are funding the latter. Identity theft and terrorism are forever linked.

In dealing with all these significant changes, the co-founder of Intel might be able to teach us something. In his now-famous book, Only The Paranoid Survive, Andy Grove talks about focusing on a new way of measuring the nightmare of a massive change, a time when a company must instantly adapt to that change or suffer the consequences.

He calls such changes Strategic Inflection Points, and says that when such a point occurs, the ordinary rules of business go out the window. But if taken advantage of, a Strategic Inflection Point can be turned into an opportunity to emerge stronger than ever.

Maybe as consumers it's time we adopt and adapt his thinking, and accept ID theft as a Strategic Inflection Point in our lives. We can adapt to the change, or we can continue to ignore it and suffer the consequences. It is okay to be paranoid and maybe a little sad, too, at all these changes. But it's also okay to be angry, concerned, and involved. And most of all, responsible. Because if you're not responsible for protecting your own identity, then who should be?

It's for this reason that more and more consumers are turning to Privacy Matters IdentitySM for help. Using a personal identity protection service that compiles your publicly available information and scans public files for changes to your information makes it easier to stay on top of the threat of identity theft.

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