Identity Theft Poses Persistent Threat

ByABC News
April 26, 2001, 6:06 PM

N E W  Y O R K,   April 30 -- On the Internet, quips the famous New Yorker cartoon, no one knows youre a dog. But thats not the case anymore.

In fact, today not only is someone likely to know if you're a dog, but they might also know your favorite brand of dog food and whether you've recently purchased a copy of the Lassie Collection 10 pack from

Privacy has emerged as one of the hot-button issues in the Internet sector and beyond, and perhaps no other topic has recently captured the public's fears about the Information Age as forcefully as identity theft.

The recent case of the Brooklyn busboy who stole the identities of rich and powerful Americans like Oprah and Steven Spielberg suggests that if thieves can get to the elite, it's a piece of cake to rob the rest of us.

You Feel Violated

Victims of identity theft say the experience is like a nightmare whose effects can endure for months or even years.

"I felt totally helpless," says Landon Browning, an engineer in San Francisco who fell victim to an identity thief last year. "I never knew when something new might spring up. I was totally depressed about it."

"It was as horrible feeling," says Robert, a Web developer in Washington, D.C., who asked that his last name not be used. "You feel violated." He says that he spent over 70 hours of personal time dealing with the theft of his identity far less than most victims of ID theft.

According to CalPIRG report, the typical identity-theft victim spends 175 hours actively trying to resolve the problems caused by the theft. Problems include clearing up credit reports, filling out and submitting affidavits and dealing with lawyers.

The financial costs can be great as well, as victims must deal with a constant barrage of legal fees, phone calls, and miscellaneous expenses.

But perhaps the most difficult cost to bear is the emotional toll taken by identity theft, the feeling that you are always vulnerable.

"It almost tore apart my marriage," says Robert Calip, a victim from Washington state. "Things were so bad that at one point my wife and I were on the verge of divorce. We were really at our wits' end."