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Identity Theft Occurs All Around The World

Feb 18, 2008
Victims of identity theft are not limited to Americans. It is a crime that affects national economies all over the world and in some cases is a more serious concern than national security or even the war on terror.

The Federal Trade Commission recently reported a loss of approximately $50 billion dollars annually in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the Home Office estimated the cost of identity theft (known as identity fraud in most other countries) as approximately $3.2 billion dollars over the last three years. The Australian Centre for Policing Research estimates the costs of identity theft to individuals to be at $3 billion each year.

Citizens of the UK can request a copy of their credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies of Callcredit, Experian or Equifax to monitor their credit. But, in the UK those who discover they have been victims of identity fraud must first attempt to resolve the disputed credit through the lending agency and then if unsuccessful report that they dispute certain information on their credit report. This makes it much more expensive and time consuming for victims to resolve identity fraud.

Spyware is the most often used information gathering tool in the UK. Approximately 91% of all computers are estimated to have been affected by spyware. The most common forms of identity fraud are not necessarily those involving credit, but it has been determined that personal information is being used to obtain fraudulent passports, health services, driver's licenses, money laundering, and other forms of government benefits.

In Canada, identity fraud is one of the fastest growing crimes. The credit agencies of TransUnion and Equifax report 1800 Canadians file complaints every month. Other common forms of identity fraud in Canada include the obtaining and use of Social Security benefits (Social Insurance Numbers). The Canadian government reported that there are approximately 2.4 million more social insurance numbers than there are actual Canadians. This brings into question the security of the social benefits systems, as well as the security of the full amount of money lost to the government through this abuse.

Can identity fraud be more frightening than terrorism? In Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong; it is. Many banks, businesses, and the government have placed tighter security measures on the release and use of personal and financial information, citizens still feel threatened by identity theft. In these countries, the most common form this crime takes is the abuse of credit/debit card theft. Next in most frequent theft results are fraud that occurs as a result of online shopping and/or bill paying. The most frequent information gathering tool in these countries is the use of Trojans and spyware, with an estimated 20% of people affected through these systems.

Twenty five percent (25%) of reported frauds in Australia involve assuming a false identity. A study of birth certificates indicated that 13% of the sample resulted in false or inaccurate information. One popular method of obtaining information to establish a new identity in Australia is the use of "identity kits," easy to purchase of such high quality that it is easy to fool people. Banks report that a loss of approximately $25 million dollars has occurred s a result of identity fraud. In 2007 it was estimated that approximately 2 million Australians have had their personal information stolen and used fraudulently. A poll conducted in 2007 indicated that 87% of Australians were more "concerned about identity theft" than terrorism.

This crime is not limited to the United States, but statistics do indicate that the US has some of the highest ranking incidences of identity theft. There could be several reasons for this: either it does not occur at the level it does in the US, other countries simply do not keep or report the information United States does and the differences in terminology may cause confusion.

It is clear that identity theft is a global problem, however, how do some countries have such a low level of incidents compared to the US? There are five reasons why the US residents and citizens may be at a higher risk for identity theft.

1. Social Security numbers, though issued by other names in many countries are not used for a catch all identifying number. Account numbers are used to indicate identity, and those are issued by the credit agencies or businesses making it more difficult to have access to personal information.

2. There are laws in many Western European countries that prohibit the sharing, selling, or releasing your private, personal, or financial information. However, in the US it is a common practice for marketers to obtain mailing list and other information from many different sources, therefore information in the US is more likely to be accessible.

3. Credit reports are designed differently in many other countries. In France, Spain and Denmark only negative information may be reported. In many other European countries credit information is limited to specific banks that have been approved to have access to the information. In the US, access to credit information is far too easy to obtain and it has more information than we may wish to have available.

4. In many other countries credit cards are not used on a regular basis for purchases. For the majority of Europeans, a debit card is used limiting not only the purchase power to the amount in their bank but limiting the use of the card by others. Credit cards are also more difficult to obtain.

5. In the US credit cards use a magnetic strip with the account information imprinted on it, making it easy for anyone with a "skimmer" to find out the account number for the card and use it. However, many European countries utilize a "smart card," that uses a computer chip that requires a pin code to be accessed. In France, since the introduction of the smart card identity fraud has decreased by 50%.

No country has been able to eliminate identity theft, and while the methods for obtaining information changes it does not stop identity thieves from finding ways to obtain personal and financial information. One fact is clear; identity theft is a top concern among many nations. With this being the circumstance; citizens, banks, businesses and government must continually change their habits to keep their information safe.
About the Author
Lisa Carey is a contributing author for Identity Theft Secrets: prevention and protection. You can get tips on Identity theft protection, software, and monitoring your credit as well as learn more about the secrets used by identity thieves at the Identity Theft Secrets blog
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