In less than half a year, Dave Crouse went from living a secure middle class lifestyle to facing financial bankruptcy – and it all happened online.
“It’s been a nightmare,” says the 56-year-old Bowie, Maryland resident who had $ 987,000 billed to his debit card and accounts opened in his name linked to his bank account. Crouse’s once robust credit score of 780 is gone . His financial particulars has been made unrestricted. “Even though my identity has been destroyed, they’re still using it today,” he explains .
ID Theft Reaches New Highs
What happened to Crouse may be a worst case scenario . But identity fraud isn’t out of the ordinary. Crouse is one of over 11 million adults – one in 20 Americans – who were victims of identity fraud in 2009. As stated by a recent study by Javelin Strategy and Research, the price was a whopping $ 54 billion, making identity fraud one of the quickest growing crimes in the country.
Similar to millions of Americans, Crouse loved to bank and shop on the internet. Using a wireless Internet connection at home, he auctioned on http://eBay.com, downloaded songs from a music website and used his debit card like a credit card.
Crouse thought he understood how to protect his online privacy . He installed virus protection software and kept it up to date. He transferred important financial details to a backup drive and not once wrote down his banking password. Crouse also shredded his financial documents . “You think you’re safe,” he states. “You think you are protected.”
In February of 2009, his bank account started displaying a negative balance. Crouse started noticing small unfamiliar charges on his statements. Eventually they accrued to thousands of dollars. “I was going to the bank every day and looking at all the charges,” he recalls .
When Crouse opened an account at another bank, the very next day both accounts were debited $ 1,100. Lots of the charges were for internet purchases or from Cyber gambling sites. Third party charges appeared from Dell, Exxon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AOL and Best Buy. Some were for items delivered to out of state addresses.
In the spring of 2010, Crouse was shocked when he got a call from an Ohio police investigator who informed him that his credit card information had been found in the trunk of a vehicle during a narcotic and guns arrest.
Now, he has a pile of bills 12 inches high for charges that he never made. “I will never be able to make a big purchase like a car or a house again,” he explains.
If your credit card is taken, a call to your card company to get a replacement issued will generally limit your liability . But if your identity is stolen , there’s no easy or even permanent solution.
Identity Thieves Are Targeting Online Details
As more individuals similar to Dave Crouse are conducting their fiscal and leisure time activities online , identity thieves are targeting information that’s sent over the Internet.
While shredding financial papers provides some protection against off-line identity fraud, in the online arena nothing is temporary. Your identity exists in hundreds of locations there.
Thieves have a variety of hi-tech tools to take your information on the web. Malware that you unknowingly downloaded in an email file or in a music download can record your keystrokes, revealing your passwords and economic information. You’re also an easy mark for computer criminals if you connect to the Internet at public wireless zones without using a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your information.
Dave Crouse wishes that he’d known that before he put his identity online. He’s paid $ 100,000 trying to repair his finances ; and his retirement and savings accounts have been depleted.
These days , Crouse lives modestly, paying cash for regular expenses and having bills automatically taken from his checking account. “I’ve gone back to living like I did in the 70s,” he explains.
For his 60th birthday, Crouse was eager to take a cross-country biker trip . That dream has evaporated along with his identity. As a result of his credit fraud problems , Crouse lost his security privileges; and with it, any hope of getting high salaried employment as a government contractor. He expects that it will take him five years to get out of debt. “I will probably have to work until the day I die,” he states.
Dave Crouse has this warning for individuals who believe their personal information is protected online: “Every time you sign on, you are opening your door to someone to take your life away from you. It’s like opening your wallet to strangers,” he states. “And it’s only one click away.”
If you believe you’re the causality of online identity theft or identity fraud, take precautions to secure your online safety. Run a complete virus scan. Put a freeze on your credit with the three credit reporting agencies. Don’t use any confidential information online.
If you’re connecting to the Internet at public WiFi hotspots , make sure you have a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your online privacy. These groups can help you combat against identity fraud:
Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs on Private WiFi
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