Identity theft affects more than 11 million of Americans each year. That's scary, because the damage done to your life when you're a victim is so pervasive, stressful and hard to repair. Thieves spend a lot of time mining garbage for personal information. They steal mail from mailboxes, rifle through your discarded trash, garbage bins at businesses and even public dumps.
Identity thieves may call, write, email or text you, pretending perhaps to work for an insurance or medical company, or to represent your bank. They can be pretty clever in finding ways to try to fool you into revealing personal information. Sometimes, identity thieves can even be family members.
Crooks who get hold of your personal information may sell it. There's an underground market for identification. Purchasers of your ID can use it to open bank accounts or pull money from your existing accounts, racking up enormous overdraft fees. They can open credit and run up the bill in your name. They can rent a home, open utility accounts, get medical procedures done and even buy a home -- all in your name.
Identity theft can ruin your credit and your financial identity, making it difficult and expensive to conduct your life normally. It's unfair, but victims of identity theft may, as a result of the crime, have a hard time borrowing money, opening credit and even getting a checking account.
The damage isn't only financial. Studies have found that the average victim of identity theft spends between 60 and 200 hours trying to repair the damage and clear their name. You can imagine what the loss of even 60 hours of your time - a full one-and-a-half workweeks -- could mean in your already busy life.
The damage to your credit can cause an enormous drain on your life and emotional wellbeing. You could potentially lose your mortgage, your credit cards or even your job. The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center says victims may feel overwhelmed, embarrassed, betrayed, angry, isolated and helpless. The crime can leave you distrustful and unsure about your financial security. The stress can be enormous.
Research shows that the faster you catch identity theft, the less time and money you are likely to spend recovering. That's why it is so crucial to get your free credit reports at least once a year and to monitor your credit scores regularly. You can get free credit scores using Credit.com's free Credit Report Card. If you notice unusual activity, you can investigate and hopefully stop the use of your identity before it goes any further.