Gartner: Identity Theft Is On the Rise

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According to a new survey from Gartner Inc., 7 million U.S. adults were the victims of identity theft during the year ending June 2003, a 79 percent increase over the rate reported by Gartner in February 2002, when 1.9 percent of U.S. consumers were victims of identity theft. Gartner added that due to the common misclassification of the crime, identity thieves have better than a one-in-700 chance of being caught.




Identity theft takes place when a thief assumes a consumer’s entire identity by taking critical private information. This information can include Social Security number, driver’s license number, credit card and bank account numbers and address. The identity thief then uses this information to get loans or credit lines to purchase goods and services, usually changing the consumer’s mailing address in order to remain unknown.




According to Avivah Litan, vice president and research director for Gartner, identity theft is not always high-tech crime, affecting low-tech adults who spend no time on the Internet as well as those who are plugged in, and he added that more than half of identity thefts where the method of the theft was documented are committed by people who are known to their victims, from family members to co-workers.




Litan said that many financial service providers, such as banks, and other enterprises that give consumers financial credit write off identity theft fraud as credit losses, leading to a misconception of the magnitude of identity theft experienced by consumers. Because of this, there is little incentive for the industry to do what it must to prevent such crimes. It is up to consumers to contact their legislators and various industry associations to ask them to put some pressure on the financial service providers to fix the problem. 




For example, Gartner analysts said that if consumers and lobbyists back the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act, which covers the security and accuracy of personal financial information, financial service providers might be forced to act.




Litan said that financial service providers “must implement solutions that effectively screen for application fraud so they don’t wrongfully extend credit to identity thieves.” He added that unless the industry does something to prevent these crimes, it will continue to be the consumers who suffer the costs.




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Emily Hollis is associate editor for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at 

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