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Cultural Competency: Could You Be The Next Victim of Fraud or Identity Theft?

Updated on February 24, 2014


It was ingrained in both my parents as immigrant children, to be American, buy American, speak American, dream American, and trust anything American. That was the attitude of the majority of immigrants and one's background was based on reputation, trust, and honesty. Immigrants were close-knit and trusting of others who would help them out. Having laid this backdrop, this is still the dream of most who come here - that we are the greatest nation in the world. While we still are, with the advent of the internet and the convenience of enhanced global communications has come, regrettably, more corruption of the society that we came to know and trust. The following is therefore a cautionary tale, not just for those who come with the hope of becoming an American citizen, but for all of us to take note, be careful, and although it may be hard to do: be less trusting and a little more savvy.

That Was Then, This Is Now

In 2012, according to the Federal Trade Commission (, there were 2.1 million cases reported in the United States of illegal activity regarding people's personal information. Of those 2.1 million cases, 52% consisted of Fraud and 18% were cases involving the theft of someone's identity.

It is important to note that only 72% of all cases were reported to Police, meaning that there were 28% more cases that went unreported, undetected, and those perpetrators will never be caught.

Names and Ranks - Topping the Charts For All The Wrong Reasons*

Country Rankings - Second to the United States, reported as having the most cases of these types, was Canada, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, and India as the top four countries with the most fraud after the United States. China had the sixth most cases reported, followed by Jamaica, Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines, ranking as tenth.

State Rankings - Florida was #1 in Fraud in 2012, followed by Georgia and Maryland. Florida and Georgia also have the distinction of ranking #1 and #2 in ID Theft, with California coming in at #3.

City Rankings - The cities with the most per-capita ID Theft cases in 2012 were: Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/Pompano Beach as #1, followed by Naples/Marco Island in second place, and the Tampa/St. Petersburg-Clearwater area coming in third.

For Fraud cases, the metropolitan areas with the highest number of cases were Colorado Springs, CO as #1, Homosassa Springs, FL coming in second, and Myrtle Beach/Conway, SC coming in third.


Fraud and Identity Theft

It is first important to distinguish between Fraud and Identity Theft (ID Theft), since many times we mistake these two terms as the same concept and use them interchangeably.

Fraud is the misuse of another's personal information for one's own benefit and is the broader term, under which the subset, ID Theft, can be found. For instance, during the month of November and December, there was a Fraud case involving the popular merchant Target, when thousands of consumers' credit card numbers were hacked into in order to steal the bank account information connected to those cards and the money in those consumers' accounts.

Identity Theft is the complete takeover of another person's personal information by another, to the extent that the perpetrator becomes the person whose information was stolen and is so convincing that the real person loses credibility and the life that he or she has built is blotted out in favor of the perpetrator. Every six minutes, according to FTC statistics, someone's identity is stolen.

The movie, Identity Theft: The Story of Michelle Brown (, is based on a true story about an elementary schoolteacher just starting out in her young married life, when her identity was stolen. The movie depicts the slow and steady manner in which one's identity is stolen and how the life of the real person becomes so adversely affected. This movie is significant, because Michelle Brown did not give up and her perpetrator was eventually brought to the only justice and punishment that was meted out at the time. Because of The Michelle Brown story, legislation was put in place in the late 1990's and ID Theft was deemed a federal crime instead of just a slap on the wrist, before this landmark case was introduced.

In 2013, another movie came out, starring Melissa McCarthy, also called Identity Theft, which is a comedy. With all due respect to the talented cast, this is not a subject matter that leaves very many people laughing. The Story of Michelle Brown, however, is worthy of one's time and eyesight, informing without the propaganda.

Most Common Forms Of Fraud

The most common form of fraud was carried out via email, according to FTC statistics, followed by phone calls and regular surface mail. The age breakdown for these types of fraudulent moves were as follows:

Identity Theft - People between the ages of 20 and 49 were the most likely targets of all ID Theft cases reported in 2012. This is a desirable age group, as this is the age group with the most consumers, hence a larger pool from which to pick. As well, many times, the identity of a younger person is most desirable to steal if the perpetrator is older and while this is no laughing matter, it does give meaning to the phrase: 45 is the new 30.

Fraud - People between the ages of 40 and 70 were the most likely targets of all cases reported in 2012. It is believed that at the upper range of this age level is where familiarity with the internet may drop off. People in their 70's may have not grown up using computers like a younger generation might, hence making this age range the most likely target by those who are more in the know.

How ID Theft Occurs

The problem with ID Theft is that many times it is not readily detectable before damage has been done to someone. In fact, it could be years before someone realizes that his or her ID has been stolen.

The following two most likely targets are those whose identity may be stolen without realizing it for years, even decades. The elderly are in the third most likely group.


It is currently the policy that everyone born in the United States must be issued a Social Security Number (SSN). This has been policy since the mid-1980's. Prior to that, when someone reached working age, they then applied for an SSN.

The danger of this current policy is that infants have become the easiest target of SSN fraud and ID Theft. It will be years before that child will grow up and need to use the SSN for anything other than a trip abroad or filling out a W-4 upon going to work. For this reason, infants are the easiest and most likely current target of ID Theft.


According to the FTC, servicemen are the second most likely target of ID Theft. It was reported in 2012 that 37% of all retired Military officials were the targets of Benefits Fraud. Of all the cases reported in the Military of ID Theft and Fraud, 52% of all cases reported within the Military involved retired servicemen.

Steps To Take If You Suspect That Your Personal Information Has Been Compromised

TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
Close out all suspicious accounts
Report your suspicions to the Federal Trade Commission
Stop by your local Police to fill out a report.
EquiFax 1-800-525-6285
Experian 1-888-EXPERIAN

Precautions You Can Take To Be Smart and Be Safe


1. ....when filling out a job application, depict your SSN as xxx-xx-1234, giving only the last four of your Social. If filling out an internet application that will not accept an x, use 111-11-last four.

2. ....make sure any site you go to is https://. That "s" after the http stands for secure and indicates that you are at a site that will protect your personal information.

3. ....when shopping online, put all your items in your cart and then call the company to complete your order. When you make the call, you know who you are reaching.

4. ....know who are talking to. If someone calls you and wants your information, get their number and call them back, to make sure that you are reaching a veritable establishment (and not a scammer as depicted in the "easy-peasy" ad on television).

5. .....BEST IDEA: Use prepaid credit cards for online shopping. They can be purchased at your local drugstore or grocery store for set amounts. There are sometimes specials when you buy a few worth a certain amount. The store will give you a store card worth anywhere from $10-20 to offset the activation fee.

By using these prepaid cards, if someone hacks into the card, they may steal the remaining balance on the card, but not the rest of your information. If you, however, shop online with a card that is linked to your other cards, the person hacking in not only can steal your money on that card, but has access to who you are, where you live, and your other linked accounts.


6. .....give your SSN, ITIN, or PIN to anyone under any circumstances. Banking or financial institutions do not ask you for your PIN, so if you receive a message, asking for your PIN, you will automatically know that these are scammers.



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