This year it is estimated that more than 10 million of us will lose an average of $5,000 apiece, but not on the stock market's swinging pendulum or because of a racetrack gamble. You'll lose it simply because someone else pretended to be you and used your own personal information to get their hands on your money or credit. In some cases, they may even use your identity to get out of a crime they committed - and you might not even know that all of this is happening until it's too late.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years, including 9.9 million people in the last year alone. According to a survey released September 2003, last year's identity theft losses to businesses and financial institutions totaled nearly $48 billion and consumer victims reported $5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses.
Anyone who uses an ATM, shops or enters contests on the Internet is a potential victim. If you are a member of an association, or if your building maintains a Web site with personal information on its residents, you are already a potential victim.
In December 2003, New York University reportedly notified almost two thousand students that their names and social security numbers had been posted on the Internet. The school sent out an email to the students, who had given this information to the school when they signed up to play intramural sports. The information has since been removed, but it is unknown at this point what damage was already done.
Even if you have any personal papers with your confidential information on it, you may still become a potential victim. Throwing away personal papers might seem secure, but think again. While the idea of dumpster diving might cross the line of even the most resourceful treasure-hunter, the fact is that there has been a recent upswing in the number of dumpster divers searching for more than just a secondhand loveseat or interesting junk. As the old saying goes, "˜one man's trash is another man's treasure," and for some with criminal intent, that treasure is your own personal information.