“Interested in credit card theft? There’s an app for that.”

- Information security specialist Gunter Ollmann on how easy it is to use malicious software to access private or business information

If we told you that more than 11.5 million Americans were robbed at gunpoint every year, there would be an outcry for the banning of all firearms, right down to BB guns.

If we told you that taxes had increased by 60 percent in the past three years, there would marches down the streets of Washington D.C. in order to protest.

While the subjects around both of those sets of numbers have been fabricated, the statistics themselves are true. They deal with identity theft.

A report released by the U.S. Department of Justice and Javelin Strategy & Research last June showed that 11.5 million Americans are touched in some way by identity theft each year, affecting approximately seven percent of all U.S. homes. Each time an identity is stolen, it costs consumers an average of $4,930, a growing financial loss. In 2010, identity theft was responsible for $13.2 billion in losses, a staggering amount by itself but that number had grown to $21 billion by 2013.

The non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center breaks down identity theft into five separate categories:

- Criminal identity theft - This includes using another person’s identity when caught in the act of a crime.

- Financial identity theft - This is perhaps the most common example. In this case the criminal uses another person’s identity to either obtain loans or uses existing accounts (such as a credit or debit card) to buy goods and services.

- Identity cloning - This identity involves stealing enough information to assume someone else’s identity in real life.

- Medical identity theft - This theft occurs in order to obtain medical care or drugs.

- Child identity theft - This instance involves using the social security number of a minor for personal gain.

Identity theft has been back on the front pages again recently because of the theft of nearly 70 million customers’ account information from retailer Target over the Christmas holidays. Since the software attack on the company’s records, Target has offered customers credit monitoring services and identity theft insurance as a way of atoning for the security breach. On page A2 of today’s Times Bulletin, the Better Business Bureau has issued a news alert informing customers that Target has reached out through contact information, including email accounts, in order to tell them of some of these offered services. The BBB has stated that these are actual contacts from Target but they also warn to be alert for scammers as reports are also surfacing of phones calls involved with recent purchases.

Most importantly, identity theft is not a crime that happens “someplace else.” Van Wert residents have had their identities stolen in the past few years - sometimes taking months and costing thousands of dollars to rectify. Also, Van Wert area residents have been contacted in regards to the Target theft as well.

The federal government offers tips on how to avoid identity theft at USA.gov. These ideas include only giving out your social security number when absolutely necessary, protecting your PIN by not keeping it with your credit/debit cards, shielding the ATM keypad with your hand so another person cannot look over your shoulder, paying attention to billing cycles, destroying mail credit card offerings, installing firewalls on personal computers, and checking your credit report at least once per year. There are also reputable companies that help to track credit and money transactions, alerting the account holder when there is suspicious activity. Most of these companies also include recovery services if any money is stolen.

We urge everyone to be proactive in protecting your identity. After all, there should only be one you.