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Consumer Fraud - Identity Theft

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Identity Theft

IDENTITY THEFT accounts for more than 40 percent of all fraud complaints reported to the FTC. All identity theft is serious, but even in its mildest form it can involve the theft of a consumer's long-distance access code. The thief sells the code to individuals who use the code to charge long-distance calls all over the world. In its most serious form, a thief gains access to the victim's Social Security number. With this number, and some other basic information, a thief can create a double of the victim. The victim's information can be used to make purchases, to rent an apartment, or to take out bank loans. Often, victims of identity theft first find out their misfortune when they receive credit card bills totaling thousands of dollars, even though they had neither opened the accounts nor made the purchases.

Identity thieves can gain access to their victim's information by copying it off of forms (for example, if they work in an office where such information is kept), by stealing a wallet or personal papers, or by otherwise exploiting a careless individual. (Fraud experts warn people never to give their Social Security or bank account numbers to someone who has phoned them, even from a seemingly legitimate business.) Often identity thieves work in large rings that span several states, which makes it difficult to track them down. Thus, even when a theft ring is cracked, others quickly crop up to take its place.

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