PITTSBURGH - Two new reports found identity theft is increasing at an alarming rate, with more complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission than ever before. Target 11 Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor takes a look at this disturbing trend.
Every three seconds, there's a new victim of identity theft, according to a new report.
"Once they've stolen your identity, it's gone," said Teresa Simko, whose identity was stolen in 2011.
For the 11th straight year, the FTC says identity theft is their No. 1 complaint. It affects millions of people and costs taxpayers and businesses billions of dollars.
"My bank used my Social Security number for my account number. Once they had that, it was a free for all," said Simko, of Westmoreland County.
Simko's account with her credit union was hacked two years ago. Since then, thieves have opened dozens of accounts in her name.
"As long as you have decent credit, they will keep going and keep going until they can destroy your credit," said Simko.
She's filed a police report, a fraud alert and has even put a seven-year lock on her credit, but the bills keep coming for merchandise she didn't order.
"Oh I get all the bills, but the packages go all over the United States," said Simko.
And last year, someone filed a tax return in her name.
"A completely erroneous, completely fraudulent tax return," said Simko.
"The crime of ID theft has gotten worse," said Mike Prusinski, the chief of staff at Tiversa, a company that specializes in detecting cybercrime.
We took Simko's information to Mike Prusinski, an identity theft expert, who found her Social Security number in the hands of criminals in the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the Philippines.
"They get your name, your address, your Social Security number, your date of birth," said Prusinski.
The real trend now is stealing from the government, whether it is tax returns, welfare checks, or documents like a passport.
Prusinski found two passport applications in Simko's name along with multiple fraudulent tax returns.
Social Security number is in the wrong hands, they're going to keep using it, over and over and over again until you can get somebody to turn it off for you," said Prusinski.
Simko is constantly filing fraud reports. If she doesn't, she could be held liable for the bills.
"It sounds like such a headache," I said.
"I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. It's really daunting," Simko replied.
Government agencies don't have the manpower to check all of the applications, so many go through, even with the fraud alert.
Simko would like to change her Social Security number, but that isn't easy. She tried once before and was denied.
Experts say you should guard your Social Security number. Don't give it out to anyone unless it is absolutely necessary.