In Hollywood movies, a case of stolen identity presents some very dramatic scenes. Court room drama, police chases, and emotional strain are all played out on television and movie screens. But for those who have become a true victim of identity theft, the seriousness of the problem is real. The scenes enacted in movies don’t show the real-life impact that losing your identity can have.
A Growing Problem
Identity theft is a massive problem that is only getting worse. Identity theft statistics are startling, and new cases are reported daily. Each year, over nine million Americans are impacted by identity theft. Identity theft is one of those crimes that can continue to haunt victims even after the case is solved and the thieves are in jail. It is a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately and thoroughly to minimize the long-term impact on the victim’s life.
Serious Affects of Identity Theft
While there are many possible scenarios involving credit theft, the reality is that any of them can hurt the victim for years after the crime is solved. While there should be some final resolution, it may not come for months or even years.
- Income tax penalties
Many victims of identity theft find that the thieves have filed fraudulent income tax returns. Thieves can garner substantial amounts of money from the IRS by having a person’s social security number and address. After the thieves have filed their false tax return, any official tax return submitted by the victim is rejected. Until the IRS has a chance to fully investigate and solve the fraudulent return, the victim is left assuming any owed taxes. Unfortunately, the IRS is not well known for their quick response.
- Loss of health insurance coverage
With the correct personal information, identity thieves can file multiple claims for medical insurance. The usual routine involves changing the victim’s address so that the criminals can receive payments elsewhere. The victim is unaware that anything has happened until they go to file a legitimate claim. When the insurance company refuses to pay because the victim’s insurance has been exhausted, victims are left with serious medical bills and possible refusal for medical care.
- Jail time
Some of the crimes committed by identity thieves have landed the victims in jail. Until the police have a chance to fully investigate a crime, the victim may spend days or even weeks behind bars. Even after having the charges dismissed, the arrest and incarceration still appear on crime registers for years. Victims may have difficulty with applying for jobs, mortgages, or professional licenses because the inaccurate records have not been corrected.
- Credit damage
Just because you filed an identity theft report doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to be held liable for charges made on your credit cards or for fraudulent loans. Until the credit bureau is satisfied with the police investigations and their own examination of the information, you are still responsible for payments on those fraudulent accounts. When you get your credit score, you may find some serious blemishes. Although they may eventually be wiped from the records and your credit score corrected, your credit report may look rather bleak for quite some time.
- Denial of employment
Employers are taking a close look at the credit scores of prospective employees. In spite of being a highly qualified candidate, a low credit score can mean immediate rejection of your employment application. Even after presenting all of your evidence, including your identity theft report and other documents, many employers just aren’t willing to take the risk.
What to Do if You Are a Victim
These are rather dismal outcomes for someone who is a victim. You may be wondering what to do about identity theft and how to prevent becoming a victim. A good place to begin is by checking your credit report. It will show if there are any problems that you may be unaware of. In fact, you should monitor credit reports on a regular basis. Some of the things to watch for include changes of address, new loans or credit cards that you don’t know about, or sudden changes in the balances of your credit cards or other lines of credit. If you notice anything that looks suspicious, report it to your financial institutions and to law enforcement immediately. They will be able to direct you on how to proceed. The faster you act, the sooner something can be done.
Identity theft and credit fraud are serious problems which need to be dealt with quickly and professionally. Sadly, the chances of becoming a victim of identity theft are increasing, and everyone should be taking a proactive approach to monitoring their credit and other financial records.