Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country. There have been 750,00 cases reported in the United States in the past year. All 19 of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackers had Social Security numbers, including 11 that were stolen.
Identity theft is the stealing of another person's identity, usually to leverage the victim's credit rating to obtain personal loans, credit cards, or instant credit, and run up debts that are never repaid, wreaking havoc for the unknowing victim when the creditors call.
Some identity thieves go even further and siphon off money directly from a victim's existing bank account. There are those who are not after financial gain, but enter the U.S. illegally, using another person's Social Security number to facilitate obtaining employment, renting an apartment, and turning on utilities.
Some have no credit or negative credit histories that borrow another person's identity, without any intention of defrauding the real owner. Then there are the "master" criminals, profiled on such shows as America's Most Wanted, that steal an identity (from living or dead) to help them avoid capture.
Regardless of motives, what makes this entire thievery possible is a system by which people are issued identification documents and the practice of verifying identity. Thanks to the World Wide Web and its plethora of databases, search engines and public records, getting this information is easier than ever.
These databases might be a valuable tool for a genealogist, but they are a potential gold mine to an identity thief. Should Social Security numbers now be protected? As the old saying goes, the cat is already out of the bag. The information is freed and in all the credit-reporting agencies, it simply cannot be controlled. It is now time for government and private enterprise to work hand-in-hand to overhaul the system of identity verification.
Tips to protect your identity:
- Review your credit reports annually and correct any mistakes immediately;
- Remove your name from pre-approved lists;
- Do not give your Social Security number (SSN), and do ask why it is needed;
- Remember only Social Security Administration, IRS, your employer and financial institutions for tax reporting need your SSN.
- Do not include your SSN on personal checks and driver's license.
- Instead of signing your name on the back of your credit card, write see my photo ID.
- Don't give your SSN over the phone, except if you initiated the call and it is needed, after you inquired why.
Identity theft is a felony crime in Kansas. If you are a victim, call your local police or district attorney.