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Identity Theft In Real Life: Not a Laughing Matter
MADISON, Wis. (2/14/13)--The hit movie "Identity Theft" makes light of the topic, but identity theft is no laughing matter for the 11.6 million adults who were identity fraud victims in 2011, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, a financial services consultancy (lifeinctoday.com Feb. 10).

The top consumer complaint for the past 12 years has been identity theft, said the Federal Trade Commission. It received 279,156 identity theft complaints in 2011, compared with 86,250 complains in 2001.

Identity theft is the fastest growing nonviolent crime in the U.S., according to Purdue University's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. An identity is stolen every 60 seconds, which translates to 1,440 identities stolen per day, said the center.

Scottsdale, Aris.-based identity fraud management firm Identity Theft 911 puts the number much higher. In the two hours it takes to watch the Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy movie, roughly 2,000 Americans will be hit with identity fraud, it said (LoneStar Leaguer Feb. 13).

Identity theft is also popular at tax-filing time. Since January, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)  has identified hundreds of fraudulent tax returns with stolen identities. In fiscal year 2012, IRS's enforcement actions totaled 2,400 against 1,310 suspects. In fiscal year 2013--after just four months--actions totaled 1,703, against 907 suspects (wzzm13.com Feb. 13).

Consumers should check their credit reports for inaccuracies and initiate a fraud alert on their credit report to make it harder for a thief to open accounts in their name, says the Texas Credit Union League (LoneStar Leaguer Feb. 13).   It warned not to give out information such as Social Security numbers and checking account information to unknown organizations or businesses. It also suggested that consumers:

  • Use a different personal identification number (PIN) or password for each account and change them frequently;
  • Be aware of phishing tactics where an e-mail poses as a financial institution or store to trick the recipient into providing personal data. Instead of clicking links in the e-mail, contact the business by phone or in person;
  • Install firewalls and anti-spyware on computers to prevent viruses or downloads that steal information;
  • Avoid storing Social Security cards, bank account numbers, passwords or PINs  in their wallet;
  • Shred papers with account numbers and other details on them; and
  • Opt out of junk mail and credit offers so they are not delivered to an unsecured mailbox.
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