With identity theft becoming a more and more profitable crime for scammers, it was only a matter of time before the government stiffened the penalties for those who commit it.
A new federal law increased penalties for those who commit identity theft from five years to 15 years in prison, according to the Illinois State Bar Association. However, despite the law being passed more than two years ago, there has been almost no sign that the penalties have been a deterrent. It is estimated that 7 million consumers are victims of identity theft every year.
With this in mind, the Bar Association said, it is important for consumers to be vigilant to help avoid identity theft. There are a number of ways consumers can safeguard their personal identity, such as only bringing one credit card and a photo I.D. on a shopping trip while leaving all other cards and checkbooks in a safe place at home.
Consumers should also be on the lookout for pickpockets, the Bar said. Another way to help avoid identity theft, is to always check monthly credit card statements for unexpected or unrecognized charges.
If a consumer does find that they have been victimized by identity theft, there are several steps to take immediately to help prevent the thieves from doing even more damage, the Bar said. The first move any identity theft victim should make is to contact the fraud departments of all three major credit bureaus and ask them to put a fraud alert on the credit file. They should also request an alert that asks creditors to confirm all new charge accounts opened under the consumer's name through them.
Further, the Bar advises the affected consumer to ask all three bureaus for their credit reports, so that they can be reviewed to ensure that no new accounts have been opened recently and that no "inquiries" have been made. These appear from the lender that opened the account, and can be removed at the consumer's request.
The consumer should also contact the creditors for accounts that have been tampered with and make sure to correct any problems, the Bar said. Consumers should also file reports with local police and their state's Attorney General.
A report from California TV station KPSP said that 40 percent of Southern Californians polled by AAA have no fears about identity theft while on vacation, and about one-third do not take common precautions.