Identity theft was the leading consumer fraud complaint last year. Of the 204,000 complaints compiled by the Federal Trade Commission, 42 percent involved identity theft.. The figures come from a government database that collects complaints from more than 50 law enforcement and consumer groups.

Stealing someone?s identity information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers, in order to steal money or commit fraud is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. It?s been estimated that the number of people victimized by identity theft may be as high as 750,000 a year.

A Seattle man was sentenced to more than two years in federal prison for stealing identity information from the garbage cans and mailboxes of almost 400 victims. Police in Washington state say they broke an identity theft ring, seizing a huge amount of stolen mail, paperwork bearing Social Security numbers, forged receipts, equipment for making fake driver?s licenses, and maps of mail routes. Computer hackers have been able to penetrate big corporations? databases and download credit card numbers and other data.

Most victims of identity theft eventually get their money back, but it isn?t easy. They often end up with damaged credit records.

The FTC?s identity theft hot line gets about 1,700 calls weekly. If you suspect this has happened to you, go to the FTC Identity Theft site,click here.

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