Someone asked a wonderful question of me the other day: “why don’t the police arrest people who steal your identity?”. It is a question I’ve never been asked before (which is odd, now that I think about it), but I’ve spend much time researching and pondering.
It comes down to three factors:
- Lack of Resources. When my identity was stolen the first time (a woman used it to buy a second home in my name), I reported it to the local police department. Their response was that I was number 6532 on this list of fraud complaints and that they would never get around to looking into the case. I knew the woman’s name, address and phone number, but law enforcement didn’t have the resources to investigate or prosecute the crime. And I didn’t have the resources to go after her legally. So it went untouched.
- Lack of Evidence. The average identity thief knows how to mask their real “identity”, meaning that when the police go to investigate who committed the crime, all they find is another victim whose identity was stolen and used to cover the first crime. Identity thieves live under layers and layers of alternate identities. For example, Joe uses Bill’s identity to steal John’s. It gets so convoluted that it becomes difficult to track. That is why it is estimated that only 1 in 1000 identity thieves is ever arrested.
- Lack of Awareness. Because identity theft isn’t a violent crime, people in general (legislators, law enforcement, judges, and even you and me) don’t consider it to be as serious of a crime as something like assault or burglary. It is so virtual and removed from our daily lives that it is very easy to ignore and continue focusing on more gruesome, attention-getting crimes. When I speak around the country to corporations, I am there specifically to raise awareness of how this crime destroys not only businesses, but lives. As people begin to feel this threat (and not just hear about it), perceptions will change.
The crucial part about catching the thief is to be very proactive in monitoring your identity. Take a look at the ID Theft Toolbox for ways to best monitor your identity. Piecing together how it was stolen a few days after the fact is much easier than catching it 2 years later, as I did in both of my cases of identity theft. If I had been on top of it, I would have known within 30 days who had stolen my identity, and the trail wouldn’t have had so much time to go cold.