In 1998 the US federal government passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act which makes identity theft a felony criminal offense. Suspected cases of identity theft are investigated by the Secret Service, FBI, US Postal Services, as well as local law enforcement agencies. Identity theft prosecutions are handled by the Department of Justice. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was named the federal identity theft clearinghouse; responsible for taking consumer complaints and assisting in investigative and prevention efforts.
In a study released by the FTC in 2003, researchers found that approximately five percent of Americans became the victims of identity theft within the last year, and twelve percent had been identity theft victims in the last five years. This means that more than three million Americans become the victims of identity theft every year, and this number seems to be growing. The FTC estimates that businesses lose $33 to $50 billion annually because of identity theft.
While federal and state laws protect consumer victims of identity theft in many ways, identity theft can be devastating to a victim. Straightening out the financial disaster identity theft can cause often take weeks, months, or even longer. The FTC estimated that in 2003, consumers spent a total of 300 million hours resolving identity theft matters. The average out-of-pocket losses to a consumer identity theft victim can total between $500 and $1,200.
There are many things that consumers can do to prevent identity theft. Never give out personal or financial information over the phone, by mail, of via the internet unless you: initiated contact, are certain the recipient is legitimate and reputable, and ensure that all transactions occur over secure communications. Be cautious about carrying personal identification information. Be aware of billing schedules. Maintain current financial records and watch for any suspicious activity. There are numerous other precautions and suggestions offered by the FTC and other consumer and government agencies.
If you notice any suspicious activity or suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, you should immediately take the following steps: contact one of three major credit bureaus and file a fraud alert, close tampered with and fraudulently opened accounts, file a police report, and file a report with the FTC. Identity theft is a serious criminal offense that can lead to incarceration, heavy fines, probation, restitution, and more for a convicted identity thief. If you would like to learn more about identity theft, please contact us to speak with a qualified and experienced attorney who can evaluate your case to determine how best to protect and maximize your legal interests.
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