As the name implies, identity theft means taking or assuming another person’s identity. For example, using another person’s credit card without permission is fraud. As of 1998 in the United States, with the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, taking out a new credit card in another person’s name is also a crime: identity theft. Identity theft has risen as a problem from a relatively rare issue in the 1970s to one affecting 1 in 20 consumers today. In 2005, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission received over 250,000 complaints of identity theft. But Javelin’s 2014 Identity Fraud Report notes that an identity theft occurs in the United States every two seconds. Indeed the incidence of overall identity theft affected 5.3 percent of consumers in 2013, up from 4.9 percent in 2012.
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Identity theft occurs in many ways: unauthorized opening of an account in someone else’s name, changing account information to enable the thief to take over and use someone else’s account or service, or perpetration of fraud by obtaining identity documents in the stolen name. Most cases of identity theft become apparent a month or two after the data are stolen, when fraudulent bills or transactions start coming or appearing in the victim’s files. By that time, the thief has likely made a profit and has dropped the stolen identity, moving on to a new victim.