Identity theft victimizes nearly 10 million Americans each year and costs businesses and individuals an estimated $53 billion (Crosby, 2005). A person's identity can be stolen either in the real world or in the digital world (online).
Although many would believe the digital world is the most common place that a person's identity is stolen this is not true. The most common place that a person's identity is stolen is in the real world when their wallet, checkbook or credit card is lost or stolen. The internet always grabs the headlines, but it is individuals who are close to the victims, such as family and friends, that are doing most of the crimes (Lai, 2006).
Social Security numbers are at the heart of the issue because it is our sole code for identity. It's very easy to obtain Social Security numbers. Non-Social Security Administration uses of Social Security numbers have not been prohibited, so Social Security numbers are used as identification and account numbers by many entities (Walsh, 2004). Counterfeit Social Security numbers are on the rise because the Social Security number is the national identifier and it gives individuals a reason to use it for illegal purposes. Stolen Social Security numbers have been used to establish credit, gain employment, hide identity to commit crimes obtain benefits and services. Thieves will attempt to get information on their potential victims in many different ways. They may steal your bank statements or pre-approved credit card applications out of your mailbox or they may do what is known as dumpster diving which is when the thief will go throw your garbage to look for potential information with your identification on it. The most difficult type of identity theft is fraudulent accounts being opened in a person's name. It takes an average of 152 days for victims to find out that a new account has been opened in their name. That's because only a credit report or notice from the lender or a collection agency will alert you to the new accounts existence (Bigda, 2006). No matter how long it takes for a person to discover that they are a victim of identity theft it will cost them countless hours of stress and anguish to restore their credit.
Individuals ranging from the age of 25 to 34 are the most susceptible to identity theft because of their lifestyle and with all the social networking sites that they have access to on the internet (myspace.com, eBay, AOL, etc). This creates more opportunity for the thieves. Although real world identity theft is the most common, digital identity theft is the easiest and the most lucrative crime. With all of the technologies that are available today a thief can practice ways of stealing someone's information and once they have it perfected they can duplicate the crime quickly without ever leaving the comforts of their home or their computer.
Security Breaches is one of the biggest contributors to identity theft. According to a survey done by Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (2005), "Personal data on more than 6 million U.S. consumers has been lost or stolen since the start of the New Year". Institutions affected ranged from data brokers and banks to universities and federal agencies". This data was lost to hackers, fake businesses setup to obtain the information or thieves