College-aged students, those 18-24, are more likely to be victims of identity theft, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Federal Trade Commission defines identity theft as the unauthorized use of one’s personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity thieves obtain personal information from discarded credit card receipts, driver’s licenses, social security numbers or any other personal identification numbers.
Although there are many local and national resources that give consumers tips on how to avoid being victims of identity theft, the advice is not always heeded.
Alsy Chin, an international business student at Florida International University in Miami, said she knew about identity theft prevention initiatives, but never thought she would be a victim. “I was shocked when I learned that someone stole my identity,” Chin said.
Chin, 21, said she was informed about the theft when a credit card company contacted her about suspicious transactions.
“Visa called me to ask if I was traveling because someone had just purchased airline tickets and ski gear.” Chin said she was happy to receive the call from Visa, but was shocked when she contacted a credit bureau. “I got a copy of my credit report and saw that someone opened a Victoria’s Secret and Sears account in my name,” she said.
Despite having learned about the fraudulent accounts in 2004, Chin said trying to repair her credit continues to be a nightmare.
“I’m thankful that I was alerted about this, but my credit score went down a lot,” she said. “I’m still trying to get it back where it used to be.”
Getting a credit score back to its optimal level is just one effect of being a victim of identity theft; there are several other consequences.
Michelle Ferguson, a 22-year-old senior nursing student at Florida State University, said she was affected emotionally: “I felt exposed and vulnerable.”
Ferguson said she found out about someone using her identity when she attempted to open a new line of credit.
She said she had only one credit card, which was paid for monthly.
“When I was at the store, the cashier called in my information and told me that I was denied for the card,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said she felt lucky that the cashier advised her to call her credit card company to check on her credit status.
“I still don’t know how or where my information was stolen,” Ferguson said. “It’s scary because anyone could have taken it.”
According to the Department of Justice, 25 percent of Americans who are victims of identity theft are alerted by their credit bureaus and informed of fraudulent account activity. But others are told in more unconventional ways.
Ebonee Rudolph, a local advertising coordinator, said her identity had been stolen on two different occasions.
She said she found out about the initial incident while she interned at a theme park in Kentucky.
“I went to open an account and the teller told me I couldn’t because of delinquent accounts in California,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph, 24, said she still does not know how her information was obtained, but cautions others about the importance of being aware of their account activity.
“Read and analyze your bills,” she said. “These days, anybody can crack a code and get your information.”
The Federal Trade Commission offers three tips to victims of identity theft: close accounts which seemed to be tampered, file a report with the local police department or the department in the community where the crime took place and file a complaint with the FTC.
Contact Lynette Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org