If someone successfully applies for a loan or a credit card using your identity, there will be a big mess to clear up. I don’t want to downplay the hassle, there. I would be extremely annoyed if that happened to me.
However, what we hear on the news and especially in commercials for services like LifeLock (lots of lawsuits) and FreeCreditReport.com (misleading at best) is inundating us with fear that it’s almost a given that it will happen to us. The truth is, financial identity theft becomes less likely to happen to any one person with each passing year. From Wikipedia:
Identity theft complaints as a percentage of all fraud complaints decreased from 2004-2006. The Federal Trade Commission reported that fraud complaints in general were growing faster than ID theft complaints. The findings were similar in two other FTC studies done in 2003 and 2005. In 2003, 4.6 percent of the US population said they were a victim of ID theft. In 2005, that number had dropped to 3.7 percent of the population.
When listening to people tout statistics, keep in mind also that “identity theft” is a broad category that includes financial identity theft. They’re both awful, and I hope it never happens to you, but you don’t have to feel like forking over $10 a month for identity theft protection is necessary. You certainly don’t want to publish any sensitive information in the newspaper like Jeremy Clarkson did, but you should be fine with shredding anything that has, say, a promotion code, or your name already printed on it.
And incidentally, why do the FreeCreditReport.com commercials hinge on the fact that if my credit is compromised, I won’t be able to get a good job? What does my credit report have to do with my résumé?
Updated June 24, 2016 and originally published September 16, 2008.