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What are the effects of identity theft?

Identity theft is an enormous problem. A September 2003 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report found that nearly 10 million Americans, or nearly 5 percent of U.S. adults, had been victimized by identity theft in 2002. ID theft is a fast-growing problem that has certainly gotten even worse since that report was written.

By the time identity theft is discovered - on average 14 months after the crime - the thief has wrecked havoc on the victim's credit standing. The effects on victims range from financial losses, lost mortgages and jobs, tarnished credit ratings and credit impairment. Consumers then often experience difficulty in obtaining loans, getting a job or an apartment, and even writing checks. In some cases to the arrest of innocent people who are "wanted" for crimes committed by others using their identities.

In most cases, victims must spend many frustrating hours trying to untangle the resulting mess - much of which must be devoted to trying to get data companies like ChoicePoint to correct their records and stop propagating false information. Credit bureaus and other data companies have long been infamous for their extremely poor and hard-to-reach customer service. They are "cost shifting" - saving money on customer service by shifting the costs to the individuals who must endure long waits and frustrating lack of responses. And the individuals forced to endure that poor service and thus have no power or leverage over them.

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