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The World of Identity Theft Continues to Evolve

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- At the end of each year, the Identity Theft Resource Center(R) reviews identity theft trends and patterns throughout the year. It examines the new directions this crime appears to be taking. The basis of this information includes: victims and their experiences, ITRC's expertise, and data from law enforcement on the ways criminals are stealing and using personal identifying information and financial records.

Last year, ITRC predicted the following trends for 2007:

  -- There will be an increase in check fraud, check synthesizing and check
     counterfeiting.

  -- Phishing will continue to grow as a problem.

  -- Child, family and domestic identity theft victims will be acknowledged
     by law enforcement and companies.

  -- There will still be a lack of sensitivity and responsiveness toward
     victims by some law enforcement agencies, companies and government
     agencies.

  -- We will see more communication between various law enforcement entities
     in multi-jurisdictional cases, including the creation of regional task
     forces.

  -- Our score was five out of five.  Identity theft continues to thrive
     despite efforts by governmental agencies, businesses, consumer
     advocates and law enforcement.  As a crime of opportunity, identity
     thieves keep finding ways to steal, becoming more sophisticated and
     skilled at their craft.

2007 in Review:

  -- Check schemes are increasing as credit issuers make it more difficult
     to get credit without authentication.  Not only are identity thieves
     stealing existing checks, they are also counterfeiting new checks that
     may contain your account number but a different name.  Another ploy is
     to put your information on the top of a check and make up an account
     number, one you never opened.

  -- While the Internet is not the culprit, it has become a tool that
     identity thieves have embraced and abuse to find victims and commit
     fraudulent activities.  Scamsters continue to exploit Web sites that
     promote online auctions and want ads, job hunting, dating (sweetheart
     scams) and social networking to find victims.

  -- Scams continue to flourish, generally falling into known categories:
     lotteries, jury duty, IRS audits, Nigerian, account verification or
     phishing, money laundering and check cashing (you deposit checks for a
     company and then send them the money).

  -- Family members are stealing identities from each other, including
     children's identities.  Some of the cases turn into an "all in the
     family" situation.  A recent ITRC study showed that the highest
     targeted category of children is between 0-5 years of age.  Domestic
     identity theft continues to be a problem, often including former
     significant others.

  -- There is a symbiotic relationship between identity theft with other
     crimes to finance and enhance the growth of highly profitable crimes
     including meth and drugs, terrorism, and illegal trafficking of goods
     and persons.

  -- Misleading commercials continue to be shown on television that either
     glamorize identity theft or make light of this crime at the expense of
     existing victims.  Sheila Gordon, ITRC's Director of Victim Services
     expressed this insight:  "From the victim's perspective, there is
     nothing glamorous about this crime.  It takes hours of hard work,
     internal strength, time and courage to clean up the mess left by an
     imposter.  However, you rarely hear about these stories.  You hear
     about the exciting exploits of 'Bonnie and Clyde' or movies like 'Catch
     Me If You Can.'  In romanticizing identity theft, the media entices
     novices and young adults to try their skill at identity theft and to
     play the role."

  -- The failure to believe someone could steal your identity generates
     apathy; therefore, individuals fail to take proactive steps to minimize
     risk.  The glamorizing of this crime, and the failure to focus on the
     national problem of identity theft has had a desensitizing effect on
     the public.  The availability of consumer education is still limited
     and may be faulty.

  -- There continues to be a lack of understanding by friends, family and
     the general public regarding the emotional impact of this crime on the
     victims, both short term and long term.  This information appears every
     year in ITRC's The Aftermath Study, which focuses on the individual.

  -- The ITRC saw an increase of products being sold to capitalize on the
     identity theft fears of consumers.  Unfortunately, some of these
     products do not carefully explain their limitations and lead consumers
     into believing that the product can completely protect them from this
     crime. Some products have merit but it is definitely a "due diligence"
     environment.

  -- The year 2007 reflected continual blame on consumers as a primary cause
     of identity theft.  Various studies and articles failed to explain that
     consumers, governmental agencies, educational and medical facilities
     and businesses all need to handle sensitive personal information,
     especially Social Security numbers and financial account numbers, with
     the greatest care.

  -- On the positive side, there has been improved communication among
     businesses, consumers and law enforcement as to the causes and possible
     solutions to reduce identity theft crimes.

  -- There has been growing acknowledgement that identity theft is a
     multi-faceted crime and not just financial in nature.  More cases of
     criminal identity theft, where the imposter uses the victim's identity
     when arrested or cited, are being reported.  Criminals are using a
     victim's Social Security number to work, collect welfare or
     unemployment, as well as get medical benefits and healthcare.

Predictions for 2008:

"Identity theft is like the never-ending story," said Linda Foley, ITRC Founder. "It acts like an oil spill that spreads in yet another direction with the ocean currents and wind despite best efforts to contain it."

  -- We only have to look at the papers to see that thieves are getting
     younger and younger.  Recently, two people in their early 20's were
     arrested, in possession of sophisticated forgery equipment.  This is a
     strong indicator that identity theft is becoming a lucrative career
     path.

  -- Identity theft will continue to grow more international in scope.
     Scams will become more sophisticated and will be harder to detect, as
     thieves become more industrious and skilled at designing viruses,
     Trojans and ways to trick you into divulging personal identifying
     information.

  -- There will be an increase in the number of data breaches due to poor
     information handling policies and practices.

  -- There will be a continuation of contradictory studies with less
     agreement on victim census, cause and effect, facts and overall cost of
     identity theft.  This will lead to confusion, misguided legislation and
     governmental actions.

  -- On the positive side, ITRC believes that businesses will develop and
     implement better ways to authenticate the identity of applicants
     including Internet and telephone applications.

  -- There will be a higher recognition of identity theft as a crime by law
     enforcement.  This will lead to more reports written to assist victims
     in taking advantage of state and federal victim recovery rights.

  -- There will more legislative action on the issue of identity theft,
     including limiting the use of Social Security numbers.

  -- States and non-profits will be in a better position to provide more
     victim assistance at no charge.

"The Identity Theft Resource Center, when making some negative predictions for 2008, truly hopes that we will be wrong. We will work collaboratively with others toward making the positive predictions come true. The ITRC will be watching closely as the year 2008 unfolds," remarked Executive Director Jay Foley.

Source: PRNewswire

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