The issue: The growing problem of identity theft in America.
Our view: Consumers should take precautionary measures to protect themselves.
Millions of Americans are having a good laugh as Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy battle it out in “Identity Thief,” a comedy about a man whose identity is stolen and the thief runs up big debts on his credit card.
But for those who have firsthand experience with identity fraud, it probably isn’t so funny.
One man in particular, Internal Revenue Service acting commissioner Steven Miller, isn’t laughing at all. Calling ID theft “one of the biggest challenges facing the IRS today,” Miller’s agency recently conducted a national sweep that nabbed 389 ID theft suspects in 32 states. In 2012 alone, the IRS opened more than 900 identity theft investigations.
Obviously, it’s a widespread problem — 8.6 million households experienced some type of ID fraud in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice. And it’s a problem that will only grow as more and more of our financial transactions move to the Internet.
Once you’ve become a victim, you have an uphill battle to reclaim what’s rightfully yours. With that in mind, it’s best to protect yourself and not become a victim in the first place. It’s not as difficult as you might think. Rather, it’s simply a matter of being aware of how your information is being handled and taking precautionary steps to ensure it’s secure. These tips from the Federal Trade Commission are a good place to start:
• Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home.
• Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home.
• Before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.