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How to prevent identity theft
Todd Davis, Forbes | March 14, 2007
Cyber criminals have penetrated many of America's top-ranked corporations and attacked millions of individual consumers with the aim of obtaining the personal data used in identity theft.
A variety of attempts have been made to find solutions to this disturbing and costly problem, yet the rapid growth of identity theft continues, as does a failure to properly prevent the crime.
During the past 12 months, employers or their vendors have compromised more than 80 million employee names and Social Security Numbers from corporations' personnel databases. The FBI report, Financial Crimes Report to the Public, says identity theft accounted for $52.6 billion in losses in 2006 and affected more than 9.91 million Americans.
The Federal Trade Commission recently noted that identity theft has topped the list of nationwide consumer complaints and grown in cases reported for the seventh consecutive year.
While many experts cite identity theft as the fastest-growing financial crime in America, it does not always involve a security breach, elaborate plot or criminal mastermind. Sadly, many individuals become victims through the hands of friends, neighbors or relatives. Thieves can often access identity-defining data easily, whether through carelessly discarded credit card receipts or bank statements, or irresponsibly offered personal financial information.
However one's personal data is obtained, the fraudulent use of this information can have a lasting affect. According to the FTC, it will take an identity theft victim an average of 177 hours over the course of two years to clean up the damage. These efforts may include meeting with attorneys and law enforcement officials, closing all lines of credit then opening new ones or arranging payment plans to reimburse exploited creditors. The reality is that Americans can avoid this scenario; unfortunately, many are not taking the proper steps to do so.
Far too often, people concentrate on fixing the problem once it has occurred or rely on standard insurance packages or credit monitoring services to alert them to fraudulent activity.
Americans also have an unrealistic dependence on the legal system to produce laws that fight this crime, though there has been progress on the legislative front, thanks to recently enacted federal legislation. In their infancy, these laws are unfortunately far too reactive, placing the burden on consumers to report violations--often too late.
Until legislation provides tougher penalties, gives consumers more control over their information and limits the sale of personal data, this crime will continue to be a part of everyday life. As such, it is imperative that consumers have a more proactive plan in place to combat this crime.
The prescription for prevention must be comprised of more than merely reporting unauthorized use of credit information or providing guidelines on how to clean up problems after they occur. It is important that people know they have the power to stop identity theft by limiting who can access their personal information and how they can use it before it ever falls into criminal hands. The primary step is rendering that information totally useless to anyone but the rightful owner.
Todd Davis, is the CEO of LifeLock, an industry leader in identity theft prevention. A Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist, Davis was recently named a member of the Crime Prevention Coalition of America.