More than 15 million people are victims of identity theft every year. Identity theft occurs when another person or entity obtains a person’s personal information illegally. Such information could be a driver’s license number, a social security number, or credit and debit card information. People who steal this information often use it to obtain services and products illegally. The punishment for identity theft varies from state to state, but it can result in jail time of approximately three to five years.
Identity theft that involves phishing (extraction of personal information by email) can result in an additional two years of jail time. Any terroristic form of identity theft can land a perpetrator in jail for up to 25 years. Persons who receive convictions for identity theft may also have to pay high fines.
How to Prevent Identity Theft
Consumers can make efforts to prevent identity theft by concealing their credit card numbers when they shop at physical locations. Online shoppers should only use secure trusted websites to order their products and services. Additionally, people who receive strange emails that request personal information should not answer the emails or click on any links that the sender provides.
How to Tell if You have Been Victimized
The best way that a person can stay up to date on his or her identity theft status is by performing a credit report check at least once per year. Consumers should also check their bank accounts and credit card balances on a daily basis. Unusual account depletions and foreign credit report items are a clear indication that someone has been using a consumer’s personal information to gain products or services. The consumer must take steps to restore and protect his or her information upon discovering such activity.
What to Do About Identity Theft
The first step a consumer can take to recover from identity theft is placing an alert with the credit bureaus. Once an alert is in place, no one can open an account with that person’s information unless he or she goes through an extensive verification process. The verification process will include verifying information that only the debtor knows. Next, the consumer should report any losses to credit and debit card companies so they can recover the funds and close the cards. Finally, the consumer can choose to take legal action if the creditors can establish the identity of the person who committed the fraudulent act. Victims of identity theft are not liable for any expenses that were not theirs.