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Reduce the risk
Washington’s Identity theft law

laptopIdentity theft is a serious crime that occurs when your personal information is stolen.  That information can be used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes that have an impact on your financial security.  Thieves can also use your information to ruin your good name, steal your medical history, take away your sense of safety, or misuse images of you.

The good news is that the number of identity fraud cases has gradually decreased in recent years. Still, the total cost of identity theft to society is enormous.  In 2006, the total cost was $49 billion dollars, with victims losing about $ 4.5 billion, and companies and banks paying the rest.  The business loss drives up business costs, causing consumers to pay again, indirectly. 

The average victim spends about 600 hours trying to restore his or her identity.  Though most victims are discovering the abuse earlier, it now takes longer on average to eliminate fraudulent transactions from credit reports and other sources than ever before.  Having your identity stolen may also be very difficult emotionally: feelings of violation, powerlessness, and frustration may feel overwhelming.  You can find help in coping with ID theft from the Identity Theft Resource Center.

graphRisk of identity theft by age

Eighteen to twenty-nine year-olds are particularly at risk because they are less likely to check their credit and are more likely to apply for credit cards without reading the fine print or considering the source.

The prevailing attitude among teens and college students is that if they don’t have money in their bank account, there’s nothing to steal.  Unfortunately, what matters isn't just how much you have in your bank account; it's how far in debt the thief can place you by using your information to apply for loans or purchase expensive items.  In fact, a criminal is likely to leave the money in your checking account so you aren’t alerted to what’s taking place when you check your bank balance.

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theifVictims of identity theft are vulnerable to future attacks

Even when you have gone through all the steps to restore your identity and financial standing you will remain at increased risk of a recurrence because much of your ‘identity’ doesn’t change.  You can change your credit card account, close your bank account, or fix a manipulated credit history, but your birth date, birth place, mother’s maiden name, your past employers, and other personal information never changes.  This information is likely to remain in criminal databases and be reused many times.  Once a victim you will need to be extra diligent in monitoring your identity forever.

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Reduce the risk of identity theft

There are many significant steps you can take to protect yourself, but there is no silver bullet or magic solution, especially as you may not be the one exposing your information.  Publically-available property tax records, court records, and housing records all make finding information about you easier.

Follow these steps to keep yourself safe from ID thieves:

  1. Everyone above the age of 14 needs to actively monitor his or her credit history.  You have the right to one FREE credit disclosure in a twelve-month period from each of the three national credit reporting companies:TransUnionExperian and Equifax.  The easiest way to get these reports is through, a service created by these three credit institutions specifically to help consumers get free annual reports.  You can also pay credit monitoring services to watch your account for you.
  2. Consider if you want all, part, or none of your information viewable in online directory searches.  It usually costs money to keep your information private (often referred to as a privacy tax) but the few dollars it costs may be well worth it to you.
  3. If your identity has been stolen, contact your bank(s) and other financial institutions immediately.  Contact local law enforcement and file a report, as well as your insurance company. Freeze your credit with the three credit reporting companies listed above.
  4. If you are a victim of identity theft, go to the FTC's Identity Theft Web site to get information about additional steps you may need to take.
  5. If your reputation or images have been stolen, contact the Web site where the abuse occurred and where the material is displayed.  They should work with you to take it down and discipline the offender.
  6. Identity theft victims should alert their friends and family.  Your identity theft means friends and family may also be affected, depending on the information stolen or abused.

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New tools under Washington's Identity Theft Law

Washington's identity theft law is one of the toughest in the nation. The law:

  • Establishes jurisdiction for identity theft either in the county where the victim resides or in the county where any part of the offense takes place.  The bill creates a loss threshold of $1,500.  Any loss at or above that amount constitutes a Class B felony.  If the loss is less than $1,500, identity theft is a Class C felony.  This strengthens current law to deter would-be thieves and allows local prosecutors to seek stiffer sentences.  Upon conviction, the law allows courts to issue an order the victim can use to correct public records tainted by identity theft.  This gives victims a legal document to help correct public records.
  • Allows a consumer to block any fraudulent information resulting from identity theft by filing a police report with the consumer reporting agency.  The block may be removed in certain circumstances under a good faith and reasonable judgment standard.
  • Requires businesses to provide victims with information about fraudulent transactions made in their names.  Businesses may require proof of identity.  Businesses that refuse to provide information may be required to pay damages and a $1,000 penalty for willful violations.
  • Prohibits collection agencies from calling identity theft victims multiple times once they have been notified that a series of checks have been stolen or misappropriated.

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