Every 79 seconds a thief steals someone's identity, and with those IDs thieves stole a total of $100 million just last year.
Local law enforcement officials say identity theft is a growing problem in our area, one that hit too close to home for a Loves Park woman.
For nearly a year Barbara Cartsens has been tracking down the woman who stole her identity and working to keep credit cards and personal information out of the woman's hands.
"This doesn't happen to me. You go through and think this happens to other people," said Cartsens.
In March of 2002, American Express alerted Cartsens that someone tried to apply for a credit card in her name. She later discovered some had applied for dozens of cards in her name and many were already in the mail.
"Your Social Security number is out there everywhere," Cartsens said. "It's scary knowing all she needed was my name and Social Security number. She knows nothing else about me and she can get a credit card in my name."
By spending eight hours a day on the phone for several weeks, Cartsens discovered a woman using a P.O. box in New York was responsible and that woman also had a state ID in her name. But police couldn't help Carstens because she'd lost no money.
"Basically they told me their hands were tied because it's non-threatening crime," Cartsens said.
Non-threatening or not, it's consumed hundreds of hours of Cartsens' time, taken away her sense of security and created credit troubles.
"It creates major hassles for the people who it happens to, and many say it's like part of them has been stolen," said Paul Logli, Winnebago Co. State's attorney
Logli says ID theft is a hard crime to track down and even harder to prosecute.
"It might make somebody feel better if somebody is going to prison, but that interferes with the payment of restitution," said Logli.
Logli says restitution is rarely successful, and victim's like Cartsens spend the rest of their lives trying to battle the false identity.
"The credit cards I will know about because of the reports. The others things she's gotten in my name, I won't know about until they track me down later," said Cartsens.
The woman in New York applied for credit cards in Cartsens name as recently as last November, and just changed Cartsens birth date on her credit report.
Experts recommend taking these steps to prevent identity theft.
First shred pre-approved credit card offers, secure your mail, monitor your credit report for any changes, and put fraud alerts on your information by calling the three credit agencies:
wifr.com: Extended Web Coverage
TransUnion: 800-888-4213 (fraud div.- 800-680-7289)
Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (fraud div.- 888-397-3742)
Equifax: 800- 685-1111 (fraud div.- 800-525-6285)
Source: www.idtheftcenter.org (Identity Theft Resource Center Web site) contributed to this report.