Couple has home stolen via ID theft
What if you came home exhausted from an out-of-town trip, only to find someone changed the locks on your house and you couldn't get in? What if you discovered there was a stranger in your home and when confronted said he was the owner and you were trespassing?
That very scenario played out for James and Paula Cook in the middle of June when they returned to their home in the 2200 block of Fountain Glen Lane in the western Frisco subdivision of West Falls Village.
According to Frisco Police accounts of the case, the Cooks found two men in their home June 13. One has since been identified as Carlos Ramirez, a resident of The Colony. Ramirez said he was the owner of the home and another man said he made a $12,000 down payment on it, according to police information officer Sgt. Gina McFarlin.
How can ID theft be any worse?
How can a potentially horrible situation be made worse? ID theft and scams often leave a trail of emotional destruction worse than the financial impact. Those of you looking at a stack of bills that you didn't have anything to do with might be shaking your heads. But here's how it's made worse: when you get falsely blamed for a situation when YOU are the victim. It happens often with ID Theft. Those of you that are serious ID theft victims know what I'm talking about. Those that aren't, here's an analogy.
Here's what happened to me: I purchased a service over the web for another business I'm involved in. It's an online equity compensation survey from the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO). And when I logged in to get it, the web site crashed. I complained that I wanted a refund. I even sent them a screen shot (see it here: nceo_stock_survey_errors.pdf ) showing the error. I got emails back essentially saying that it was my fault. Being a technical guy, I knew it wasn't. I was asked to keep trying but I had no confidence in the web site or the survey any more--it crashed the first time I used it. I was peeved that I had wasted my time. So I demanded a refund. My email definitely had a "snotty" tone to it (I'll own that), but I did not insult anyone or use any "language". Well, on top of being told *I* was the problem, I got a nasty email back from the Executive Director! So not only was I accused of being wrong, I was insulted on top of it. I sent an email back (1) apologizing for being snotty and (2) telling them it was pointless, lousy marketing to blast me for having the gall to complain. They did eventually refund my money but they made it clear they thought I was a lowlife for asking (I got two more angry emails back!) It was all about them--how they had to protect themselves. Nothing about the customer. No acknowledgement that I had a bad experience! Astonishing.
Is it fraud to sell a service that doesn't work? Yes, but not in this case. I'm sure the survey site would work again if I kept trying. It was probably an isolated incident. However, there's no way I was in the wrong to ask for a refund--it didn't work and I proved it!! It's not my job to debug their problems. So the feeling I had spendng $75 on a service that was broken was slightly negative. But it was the reaction I received to my complaint and refund request that was totally infuriating.
I know that everyone reading this has felt that way. Especially if you've ever used air travel (no need to elaborate on that point). Well, take my harmless example and amplify it 10, 100, 1000X--now you're starting to understand the impact of ID theft. Collection agencies, creditors, banks, utilities often try to make you feel stupid and are suspicious of you, the victim. To make it worse, sometimes it's trusted friends, neighbors, and family members that are the fraudsters. It's heinous and "we" have to do something about it. And I am. More on that in the future...
Ps. Go ahead post your own story in a comment. Whether it's ID theft related or you're just sick of crappy service and the corporate culture that incubates it. People WILL read your comments! You will be heard!
Number of ID Theft victims
There are 220 million people (consumers) over the age of 18 in the US, according to the Population Division, US Census Bureau, February 2005. Gallup/Experian released a poll recently that states 18% of consumers (over age 18) reported being victims of ID theft. If you take the step of extrapolating those results across the entire population (18% of 220M), that means there has been a gross underreporting of the number of victims. The extrapolated number is 39.6 million identity theft victims (I'm assuming the Gallup poll meant at least once in their life). In the Experian article, they say the media tends to accurately report it. But I never see anyone define "consumer" anywhere. So if you say 15%, I will reply "15% of what?"
The press almost always reports 10 million victims in 2004 (or 9.9) which is based on one survey done by the FTC between mid-2003 and mid-2004. Reporters and marketing people continue to regurgitate that number over and over, even though it's not appropriate in most contexts. It doesn't even cover the second half of 2004! But the darn survey was released in December 2004 (if memory services), so everyone just assumes it's for all of 2004. Media folks, if you need accurate data for your articles, just send me an email and I will help.
Based on my own heuristic, combining several data sources (I have the sources buried in a document on my hard drive somewhere), I believe the number of ID theft victims in 2004 was closer to 15-18 million people. Of course, one needs to define ID theft victim first, before you can talk about the validity of any number. For example, you could probably safely say there are over 250 million people starving in the US each day, if you define starving as being "substantially hungry at least once a day". I tend to follow the same definition of ID theft as the ID theft resource center (www.idtheftcenter.org).
Ps. If you're curious how many people there are in the US today, the number is 296 million. That's from the US Census Bureau as well.