Because of the widespread use of social networking and online shopping, it's easier than ever for identity thieves to operate online and successfully get victims' personal information.
Now district attorneys in one state are fighting back. According to the Wisconsin Law Journal, the state's prosecutors are going to pursue identity theft charges more aggressively going forward.
"I think the reason behind that is because the implications of identity theft in the Internet age are so much greater," Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm told the publication. "I've known some prosecutors who have been victimized themselves and it can take years to restore credit."
However, the Journal notes, defense attorneys say that these charges are being used too broadly. Before identity theft was a more widespread crime, stealing a credit card and running up $100 in charges at a store would be considered a misdemeanor theft, often settled with restitution and a fine. Now it's a felony that comes with a stiffer sentence.
Prosecutors are also going to try any case in which someone signs another person's name on a check as identity theft as well. However, one county district attorney says that some instances - such as when people give a false name to the police - would not be tried as felonies. He added that state prosecutors evaluate intent by an offender and damage to a victim, be it monetary or otherwise, when considering whether a crime warrants a felony charge. There could be a greater chance they will apply the identity theft statute to more crimes going forward because of how much information is shared online.
One fraud investigator told the Journal that the average person doesn't necessarily know what type of information puts them at risk for identity theft online, and that a diligent identity thief can often circumvent everything from passwords to security questions, especially if the latter is related to a common question like the user's mother's maiden name.
A recent report in Maryland newspaper the Salisbury Daily Times said that consumers can protect themselves online and in the real world by simply being more vigilant. There are many easy ways for consumers to help ensure that their identities remain more secure from theft, including shredding financial documents and being careful about clicking links in emails.