These days, identity theft exists in many different forms — and some types are growing in popularity among thieves. This seems to be particularly true for fraud related to government benefits, which can not only harm consumers’ finances, but land them in other hot water, too.
Types of identity theft that target a consumer’s tax returns, as well as their eligibility for government benefits or ability to apply for jobs, are still extremely common, according to a report from Bank Info Security. This is the case despite many state and federal agencies’ efforts to crack down on these types of crimes, both by making them more difficult to commit in the first place, and also reducing the amount of time it takes to deal with identity theft reports.
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“They’re [all] still on our radar,” Eva Velasquez, head of the Identity Theft Resource Center, told the site. ”More than 25 percent of our calls in 2012 were from victims of some type of government ID theft, meaning that their personal information was used either to secure government benefits, to apply for a tax return or even to apply for a job and work or collect unemployment.”
Often, information for these types of crimes is gained through phishing schemes that target unsuspecting consumers and trick them into turning over vital data such as their name, address, date of birth and Social Security number, the report said. All that data can then be used to create phony tax returns and other falsified government documents, which in turn allows the thieves collect potentially large sums of money in another person’s name, often without their knowledge. Most victims don’t find out about this type of crime until weeks or months after it has taken place, and it can sometimes take more than a year to resolve these issues.
Many consumers may simply not realize how they can be at risk for identity theft, and therefore they might let their guard down when receiving fraudulent emails, phone calls, or even home visits from criminals, the report said.
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So the first rule of thumb for consumers: Keep in mind that no government agency, or business, would ever get in touch with them and ask for personal or financial data without that person initiating contact first.