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The state of identity theft in the U.S.

The state of identity theft in the US

4/15/2014

Debt collection problems and bank disputes can be aggravating, but these issues do not seem to frustrate as many Americans as identity theft, a recent Federal Trade Commission study suggests. According to the FTC's annual report on consumer complaints, identity theft was the most common topic addressed to the commission last year. Of the more than two million complaints received, 14 percent were related to identity theft. The FTC also found that fraud cost Americans at least $1.6 billion last year.

Identity theft can affect anyone
The study examined the prominence of identity theft among different demographic groups, and found that Florida was the state with the highest per-capita rate of reported identity theft and fraud cases. Individuals between the ages of 20 to 29 were shown to be common victims, with 20 percent of identity theft complaints coming from this age range. However, it is important to keep in mind that the FTC's findings only account for incidents of fraud that were reported to the commission. Floridians and​ 20-somethings are certainly not the only demographics who need to make identity protection a top priority.

"Americans of all ages are vulnerable to identity theft, and it remains the most common consumer complaint to the commission," stated Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Fraud is maintaining a long-standing title as the FTC's list-topper. David Torok, director of the agency's Division of Planning and Information, told Reuters that it has been the No. 1 complaint since at least 2006.

New identity theft threats abound
Unfortunately, it seems that identity theft is only going to become a more complicated issue in the coming years. A recent NBC2 story highlighted a new form of identity theft that could have major implications for American consumers. According to the news source, investigators have found that fraudsters are attempting to receive government benefits using victims' names. These identity thieves steal personal information, including Social Security numbers, then apply for food stamps and other types of federal financial assistance.

"Anybody can be behind a keyboard and a computer monitor claiming to be you or me," Beth Schell, a fraud investigator in Lee County, told NBC2. She went on to explain, "You can get Medicaid, temporary financial assistance, things like that the government is able to assist those that are having a tough time."

The identity theft victims will not be the only ones affected. NBC2's Dave Elias noted that this issue could cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Mobile users need to be especially careful with regard to their security habits, as cybercriminals have been planting extremely clever traps to lure smartphone owners. For instance, hackers have developed realistic-looking imitation versions of popular apps. When mobile users install these phony apps, they risk giving away their personal information to identity thieves.

Keep your identity your own
The FTC suggested several precautions for protection from fraud. The commission urged smartphone owners to install anti-virus and anti-spy software. Mobile users should also steer clear of links or files sent by strangers, as these could contain password-stealing viruses. Although privacy policies can be arduous to read through, it is advisable to review them carefully to determine how sites use information.

The issue of identity theft is growing both in numbers and complexity. It's easy to adopt an "it won't happen to me" mentality, but the truth is that fraud can affect anyone. In addition to heeding the FTC's advice, smartphone owners can stay safe with ProtectCELL's identity protection program. The plan offers security beyond what mobile phone insurance can provide, helping fraud victims recover their identities and erase sensitive information immediately.

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