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The Internet has brought a lot of positives to our lives. It makes it easier to keep in touch with our friends and family members. It makes shopping a breeze. Keeping tabs on world and local news events is easier than ever.
But the Internet is also behind one trend that’s definitely not a positive: the rise in identity theft crimes.
We’ve all read plenty about identity theft: Criminals somehow steal the important data — everything from Social Security Numbers to bank routing numbers — from Web surfers. They then use this information to make fraudulent purchases or empty the bank accounts of their victims.
The Federal Trade Commission recently released its year-end identity theft stats for 2010. The biggest surprise? With the careless way that consumers spread their personal information all over the Internet, it’s shocking that weren’t even more incidents of identity theft last year.
According to the latest numbers, the Federal Trade Commission received 250,854 complaints about identity theft in 2010. It was, for the 11th straight year, the subject that most concerned consumers, according to the federal agency.
In fact, identity thefts made up about one-fifth of all the consumer complaints, about all subjects, that the Federal Trade Commission handled in 2010.
According to the commission, the most popular type of identity theft involved criminals stealing victims’ identities so that they could use their information to apply for federal benefits such as Social Security payments.
Also popular were credit card cases in which consumers unwittingly provided theives with the ability to steal their credit card data. The thieves were then able to make loads of unauthorized credit card purchases with this information.
The complaints that the Trade Commission receives each year probably represent only a small percentage of the actual identity thefts that take place on an annual basis.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million U.S. residents have their identities stolen every year. Many consumers might not even realize this has happened to them.
According to the commission identity thieves may rent apartments, obtain credit cards or establish telephone accounts in your name. Worst of all, you may not find out about these crimes until you review your credit report or until you receive a credit card statement with strange charges on it.
You may not even discover that you’ve been victimized until a debt collector rings your phone asking you to pay outstanding debts that you never racked up.