Identity theft is on the rise. It is only a matter of time before you or someone you know will be directly affected by this crime. How will you handle ID theft if it happens to you? We don’t have to be willing victims of this crime. With a little education and some preventive measures we can each help minimize our own risk.
So first, what is identity theft? In simple terms, identity theft can be defined as obtaining an individuals personal information to be used for some sort of abuse or deception. For many people identity theft is thought of as being related to a work or financial abuse such as using another persons social security number to obtain a job or using another person’s credit card for a purchase. These are not the only situations where identity theft occurs.
There are several classifications of identity theft, and different organizations have their own classifications. In order to make this topic simple for everyone, I have broken down identity theft into three distinct classes. Depending on what research you do, you will likely find other classifications as well.
The loss of your personal identification, that is your social security number or drivers license information, is one that has implications in all other areas of identification theft. There are many reasons someone would want to have your social security number: work eligibility, opening a bank account, or obtaining utility services just to name a few. In these situations the use of someone’s social security number often goes unnoticed because the owner sees no real harm; that is until some event occurs that reveals their information is being used by someone else. These cases are sometimes just a spring board to gaining additional access by taking over your financial account, e-mail services, or medical services.
Identity theft, which I classify as financial in nature, is one where criminals obtain your credit card number, checking account number, or some other financial related account for the purpose of making purchases under your name. The financial impact by the theft of our identity can be significant. Individuals typically notice this form of identity theft immediately because large debts have been accumulated over a short period of time. The first sign that we are in trouble with financial identity theft is when we receive our credit card bill in the mail and find it has reached its limit.
Medical identity theft is far the worst of the three types of identity theft noted here. This type of theft could have life and death consequences. Should your medical identity be stolen and you are later admitted to the hospital, you could potentially be treated incorrectly with the wrong medication. Because of the serious nature of medical identity theft, it is important that everyone knows what is on their medical records and periodically verifies the information.