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Identity Theft Rises as Christmas Nears

By Faye Mergel
Published: Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Long checkout lines and filled parking spaces—these are just some signs that the holiday shopping season is near its peak. Unfortunately, there is another indicator that Christmas is well on its way: the rise in identity theft. The number of consumers falling victim to ID fraudsters increases during holidays, creating serious trouble for shoppers who have to carry negative marks on their credit report they did not create.

ID Theft Rises as Christmas Nears Federal investigators say people write more checks and use their debit and credit card more often during the holiday season, which gives ID fraudsters greater opportunities to work out their scam. They assume the identity of other people, use their bank accounts, and ravage the credit report of unsuspecting victims. Using another person’s identity, scam artists open card accounts, apply for a mortgage or auto loan, or simply use up a victim’s available credit.

Investigators note that ID theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, victimizing at least 500,000 Americans each year. According to the Federal Trade Commission, people who get victimized by ID crooks could spend months and even years cleaning up their credit report. They could also spend thousands of dollars in trying to regain their identity. FTC adds that this does not include the emotional impact the crime causes its victims.

As a result of the negative marks on their credit report, ID theft victims could lose a job opportunity or be refused a car or home loan. Worse, they could be arrested for a crime they did not commit.

Thieves get the information they need to work out their crime by stealing mailed statements, business records, Social Security numbers, personal addresses, and phone numbers. Experts say crooks usually start their crime by sending phishing emails to potential victims or digging up trash. They note that some business firms do not dispose client files properly, leaving sensitive information open to fraudsters.

Advocates say consumers can never completely eliminate the risks of ID theft, but they can do many things to avoid it. They advise holiday shoppers not to carry extra cards and other important documents unless necessary. When asked for personal identifying information over the phone, consumers are advised not to give any unless they personally know and completely trust the person asking for it. Moreover, consumers are advised to be extra careful with their Social Security number since thieves could use it to access their bank accounts and gain additional information about them.

Aside from that, consumers are advised to regularly check their credit report so they can identify if there are fraudulent items in their accounts.

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