More than 15 million Americans had their identity stolen last year. Do you know anyone who has suffered through the victimization, then agonized more as they struggled to reclaim their identity?
Odds are you do! We hope it wasn't you.
Because of this digital epidemic, we conducted an exclusive MoneyTips Google survey in 2018 to see how many people knew identity theft victims, and the results were astonishing. We asked:
Using weighted averages, barely more than 1 in 4 (26.1%) didn't know a single identity theft victim. Nearly 6 in 10 knew between 1 and 5 victims. 6.3% admitted knowing between 6 and 10 victims, while more than 1 in 12 (8.7%) knew 11 victims or more!
Says Professor Steve Weisman, who teaches White Collar Crime at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, "These figures are disturbing, but not surprising. Identity theft is a huge problem with the question being when you will become a victim of identity theft rather than if you will become a victim of identity theft."
"Wow!" exclaims Greg Scott, an IT professional who wants to reform the credit reporting system. "I know two peoples' stories in detail, published on my blog. I know bits and pieces of several others. And I had a small taste of it first-hand.
"I'd love to see a survey of victims and quantify how many hours and how many years it takes to recover. In the identity theft stories I know about, cleaning up the mess is a full-time job that pays $0 and lasts years. Victims find themselves guilty until proven innocent, and the only case I know of where law-enforcement lifted a finger to help was with Sarah Palin back in 2008. People who aren't celebrities are typically on their own and up against an entire underground criminal syndicate."
We also asked more than 900 respondents about their own fears of identity theft:
The most popular answer chosen was "Yes, but what can I do about it?" with 41.4% of the vote. MoneyTips members know there are many ways to combat identity theft. You could freeze your credit, or you could try credit monitoring.
A little more than 1 in 3 (36.6%) answered "Not really," but they should be. By the time they find out their credit information is being used by a thief, it could cost them a lot of time and money to straighten out the situation.
More than 1 in 10 (10.5%) admitted that these identity theft fears kept them up at night. A slightly higher percentage selected, "No idea, what's the dark web?" For those not in the know, the dark web is an intentionally hidden part of the web that is not accessible by standard search engines or browsers that can harbor criminal activity such as the selling of personal financial data... including yours.
Says Professor Weisman, author of Identity Theft Alert, "There are a number of simple steps that people can do to protect themselves from identity theft such as putting a credit freeze on their credit reports at each of the major credit reporting agencies including the little known National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE), which is used by the major phone service providers before opening phone service contracts." The good news is that a new federal law permits people to freeze and unfreeze their credit at no charge.
Adds Scott, himself a victim of identity theft, "We can do some things both individually and collectively about identity theft. The individual things are well-documented, and all are around vigilance and education. Collectively, we should put pressure on the credit reporting industry to reform. It's insane that anyone who knows my Social Security Number can impersonate me. There are lots of proposals to fix that problem, including mine, and we need to put a group together representing consumers, creditors, and the credit reporting industry with a short timeline to define real credit reporting standards for everyone to adopt. We can build a system that protects consumers against identity theft if we decide we want it badly enough."
The credit reporting system may change, but not today. In the meantime, the more you know about identity theft, the better off you'll be. And the better you'll sleep at night!
Protect your credit – protect your identity – protect yourself with a free MoneyTips trial.
For more of our exclusive data and insights, visit MoneyTips Identity Protection Survey Findings.