Who is anyone without a good name and reputation? That may not be a question one can answer without a bit of thought, but it is at the crux of the identity theft issue.
The dynamic Internet, with its vast un-patroled frontiers of social media sites, online banking and deceptive emails, is fertile ground for identity theft, which has become even more widespread today than it has been in the last decade or so.
Believe it or not, according to a 2008 survey conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research, a financial services research firm, an estimated 9.1 million Americans have had their identities stolen by thieves lifting personal information off the Internet or through other means, and security experts attest that recovery from this type of crime can take many months. Sometimes, no matter what action is taken, the identity theft-victim encounters problems getting credit for years to come.
Not all the scars left by identity theft are that obvious. Financial loss and severe inconvenience are givens, but the emotional costs are even greater and more lasting. Cyber-security experts claim that many victims experience paranoia, depression, and rage. Moving on from this cyber-rape takes resolution and justice; two elusive commodities when dealing with identity theft.
One woman from Wisconsin, Debra Guenterberg, personifies the horrific complications of being a victim of identity theft. Her nightmare has lasted thirteen years. Two men stole her name and her husband’s Social Security number, which they used to obtain credit cards, buy three homes and several cars. The couple are still turned down for credit because of the damage done by these two thieves.
“It’s a nightmare. We both feel physically and mentally exhausted…and hopeless because we can’t fix this. We’re angry. We can’t sleep at night. … We want to move on. Losing money to a thief is not the same as losing one’s identity.
If somebody steals your wallet and you notice what they’ve done on your credit report, you still have protection from that, though it’s still a nightmare. But when someone overtakes your life and becomes you – that’s insane.”
The Guenterberg’s situation was especially difficult because it involved the loss of a Social Security number. According to the Privacy Rights Clearing House, a non-profit group that educates consumers about privacy protection, even if an imposter is using a person’s Social Security number, the Social Security Administration will only issue a new number in extreme cases.
Tips for preventing identity theft are now well known and include:
1- Only give out a Social Security number if you must
2- Install a firewall on your home computer
3- Don’t use biographical information in your passwords
Financial messes and subsequent clean-ups are one thing; overcoming bitterness is quite another. Many of the criminals do not feel they have committed a crime and some are so cold blooded they even prey on their closest relatives.
Everyone pays for identity theft and the price is far too high. How much is YOUR reputation worth?
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