According to the FBI, identification theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States. According to a study published by the Federal Trade Commission, nearly ten million people were victims of identity theft in the year 2002 alone.
Identification theft is defined as a crime in which someone uses another person's personal information (such as his name, address, date of birth, or social security number) along with his credit information (such as his credit card and bank account information) for personal gain. Many people who have been the victims of identity theft have spent years cleaning up the financial wreckage.
There are a number of ways for people to gain access to your personal and financial records. Identity thieves steal files from business associates, look over your shoulder as you write checks, rummage through your garbage, and use the Internet to perpetuate elaborate scams. If someone steals your wallet or breaks into your mailbox, he or she can steal your identity and wreck havoc on your financial future.
If someone gains access to your personal and credit information, they may damage your credit through a variety of activities. Criminals may go on spending sprees, open new accounts, apply for large loans, establish cell phones in your name, and even file for bankruptcy using your personal information. Identity theft can go on for quite some time before the victim even knows it's happening. Some signs of identity theft include shifts in account balances, denial of credit card applications, and receiving credit card statements for accounts you know nothing about.