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Georgia has reason to fear identity theft

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? I am. I work daily with identity theft victims.

Identity theft has evolved from a financial crime to one that now includes governmental agency, criminal and medical records. Financial identity theft is only one major type of identity theft. Increasingly, other types of identity fraud are present, often in combination with financial identity theft. It affects adults of all ages, children, the elderly, all economic strata and even the dead.

A case will often have multiple types of identity theft present. That makes the impact on the victim more severe and the recovery process longer.

In February, the Federal Trade Commission released its Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. Identity theft again topped the list of complaint categories. The study ranks states according to the incidence of identity theft per 100,000 citizens. In 2010, Georgia had the fourth-highest incidence. In the most recent 2011 study, the state has moved up to second place.

Moreover, statistics from the call center at our Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) show that Georgia victim calls, which averaged 2.9 percent of our case load during the past three years, have increased to 3.7 percent during the first quarter of 2012. This nearly 30 percent increase represents a significant jump from previous years. In Georgia, identity theft is a felony under identity fraud statutes. For no-cost help or consumer information, you are welcome to contact the ITRC (888-400-5530; www.idtheftcenter.org).

The use of Social Security numbers as an identification number has facilitated the engineering of ways to use a person’s identity for criminal gain. Initially, identity theft may manifest itself through affected credit or financial records, often severely affecting the victim through foreclosed mortgages, collection accounts, bankruptcy filings, tenancy evictions, fraudulent utility accounts, student or auto loans, denied bank accounts, fraudulent credit card accounts and/or the inability to write personal checks. The complexity increases when you consider affected employment histories, disability claims, driving records, outstanding debts with tax-revenue agencies and terminated social services.

If that is not enough, add warrants for arrest, arrest records, misdemeanor and felony counts. Criminal records, when incorrect, are difficult to correct. In addition, include mixed medical records, emergency service bills for services not received and mixed prescription records that lead to denial of valid prescription drugs. Individually, each type of identity theft is daunting. Multiple cases make life a horror show for the victim. Corrective actions may take, in some cases, years to correct.

I see the pain inflicted by identity theft every day. Yes, I’m afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.

Gabby Beltran is a victim adviser and public information officer for the California-based Identity Theft Resource Center.