It happened to Sandra Bullock in 1995's classic action thriller, The Net, so why can't it happen to you? Think your boring life can't erode into a murderous web of lies, accented with spontaneous explosions, perpetrated by some conniving thief? Think again.
Or maybe that only happens to "cyber-jockeys." Nevertheless, identity theft is something that, according to the Federal Trade Commission's 2003 Identity Theft Survey Report, 4.6 percent of the American population should be concerned about. That's the total the report came up with for all cases of identity theft, from fraudulent accounts to the use of someone's name while dealing with the fuzz. This affected 9.9 million people in the U.S. that year and cost them an average of $500 dollars each, $5 billion nationally, and took 30 hours per person to solve the problem.
The most expensive form of identity theft involves new accounts and takes twice the amount of your precious time to resolve. According to the FTC study, this affected 1.5 percent of Americans, roughly 3.2 million people, and cost the average victim $1,180.
But there's hope: The FTC provides a one-stop national resource on identity theft. As the FTC eloquently says, as only a fine bureaucracy could put it, "One missing puzzle piece can change a puzzle's characteristics." Applying this logic to identity theft, they say that one "piece" of personal information is all a thief needs to steal from the "puzzle" that is your life. (So, I guess it really blows that our Social Security numbers are used all the time these days.) To find out what you can do to prevent fools from robbing you of your identity, as well as what to do if your identity is stolen, go to www.consumer.gov/