It’s never a bad time to think about protecting yourself from identity theft. There’s no national holiday for identity theft awareness—yet—but states and cities all over the country observe their own events throughout the year. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn declared Sept. 25 to Oct. 1 Identity Theft Awareness Week, so we took this opportunity to share a surprising story that was in the news recently.
A small mistake led to 19 years of stolen identity. As a college student in 1990, Patrick Guest realized his wallet was stolen at the gym. After filing a police report, he nearly forgot the incident until he received a strange bill two years later. The letter informed him that he owed $200 for a neck brace from a hospital he had never visited. When he called to report that someone had falsely used his identity, the police asked Guest’s whereabouts so they could arrest him for driving uninsured, driving under the influence, and numerous unpaid parking tickets.
After Guest proved this string of violations was also a case of stolen identity, police arrested Gilbert Landry, charging him with identity theft in relation to the hospital bill. It took Guest a year and $2000 to reverse all the parking tickets—a process that involved personally filing affidavits in courthouses all over Toronto—and another seven years until his record was clean again.
In the meantime, it seemed Landry was still using Guest’s name. In 2009, Guest’s credit card company started calling him to confirm changes to his account he hadn’t made. He began receiving bills for thousands of dollars’ worth of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Guest, now 42, was able to avoid more damage this time around by using monitoring systems that required him to personally approve all requests for credit. Finally, on September 14 of this year, police arrested Landry, now 52, again, this time charging him with alleged identity theft, false impersonation and credit card fraud.
Most identity theft doesn’t involve so much fast food, but other aspects of the story are all too familiar. It’s no surprise that outrageous identity theft stories are constantly making headlines, considering how common this type of fraud is. The Federal Trade Commission received 250,854 complaints of identity theft in 2010. Guest’s years and cost spent restoring his identity might sound unusually long, but the averages aren’t much better. In 2009, identity theft victims spent an average of 141 hours and $2104 repairing damages when a new account, criminal, governmental or a combination of several situations were involved, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
PeopleSmart offers tools to protect yourself from identity theft. We’ve partnered with IdentityForce to bring you IdentitySmart. IdentitySmart gives you the tools to be proactive about identity protection, including access to your full background report, alerts on any changes to your criminal record, and lost wallet assistance. If you do fall victim to identity theft, IdentitySmart gives you $1,000,000 in Identity Theft Insurance and provides a Personal Identity Restoration Advocate to personally help you restore a stolen identity.
Understanding the particular risks is a big step toward developing your own identity protection strategy. At PeopleSmart, we want to help you stay informed of particular risks you face, while equip you with tools to protect yourself. Check back soon for tips college students, a high risk population within a high risk age group, can take to safeguard their identity information.