Identity theft in focus

The stories are all too familiar: Money siphoned from a checking account. Unfamiliar charges racked up on a credit card bill. Discovering a loan has been taken out under false pretenses. You may know someone forced to deal with one of these situations, or it may have even happened to you.

Identity theft, when a thief uses your personal information for their personal gain, comes in all shapes and sizes, as criminals are able to steal information in a variety of ways – online and offline, included – and then use that information to commit a range of crimes. But there’s one common factor: this crime is growing rapidly around the world, and its effects are hitting close to home for many. The numbers from current industry reports speak for themselves:

  • An estimated 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year.
  • The financial impact due to fraud amounted to $48 billion over the past year.
  • Approximately 1.8 million more adults in the U.S. became victims to identity fraud in 2008, compared to 2007.

Where can victims or those wanting to learn more turn for assistance? Organization like the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a U.S.-based non-profit group dedicated to providing assistance to identity theft victims, can lend a helping hand.

The ITRC – while also devoted to educating consumers, businesses, and government agencies on identity theft awareness and mitigation – offers a number of resources for identity theft victims, among them a no-cost call center. The victim assistance call center alone received an estimated 8,000 calls this past year.

“There has always been a need for victim services worldwide. The restoration process of cases that range beyond closing a credit card are enhanced with the guidance of a trained and skilled advisor,” says ITRC founder Linda Foley.

Making the organization especially sensitive to the needs of victims in clearing their names and preventing further fraud is the fact that the ITRC is staffed with advisors who have been victims of identity theft themselves; its victim assistance services and educational material, including fact sheets and form letters, were created by its experienced staff.

“The information was obtained from our own walks through the trail of being a victim as well as the thousands and thousands of victims we have helped walk through their own battles,” says Foley, who established the ITRC after her employer stole her identity. Additionally the ITRC research and writing team spends many hours verifying information, procedures and laws before even starting to write. We have staff whose primary focus is to stay on top of the latest information daily.”

Still, even with such resources readily available by the ITRC, as well as a growing number of other educational campaigns like the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft awareness microsite, identity theft and fraud continue to proliferate, stressing the need for more to be done to protect consumers. According to the ITRC, to fight this type of crime, a stronger focus and more resources are needed in the form of services, education, and legislative support and guidelines.

“The most important point is that we must work in a collaborative effort: businesses, consumers, government, law enforcement and legislators,” Foley says.