Thieves lift information from job applications, personnel records, discarded credit card receipts and other sources of data. The newspaper reports that the perpetrators typically get their information from the inside. Sometimes it's a disgruntled worker. Identity thieves have also secured temporary employment just for access to personal information, according to USA Today.
"You can't really protect yourself," says Martha Steimel, president of Victim's Assistance of America, a group that focuses on identity theft. "Anybody who has access to employment files can turn you into a victim. You can be totally mutilated financially by an identity theft perpetrator. It's scary."
The theft of records from employers and other firms that store personal information is now the leading source of identity theft, according to a study by Transunion, a credit reporting agency.
USA Today notes a couple reasons for the rise in identity theft using employment records. The newspaper cites the increasing use of technology to store information, making it easier for perpetrators to access the data. Crime experts tell the newspaper that the faltering economy can lead to increased crime.
"Most businesses think of client records as the most valuable, but payroll records are more often than not what's stolen," says Joanna Crane, program manager of the FTC's identity theft program. "It's happening with increasing frequency."
Victim advocates tell the newspaper that employers need to do more to protect employee data. USA Today notes that employee lawsuits that allege their employer was negligent with their data have firms taking notice.
Some firms have initiated such measures as conducting privacy audits, and removing Social Security numbers from employee IDs.
Federal Trade Commission released a report Wednesday that said complaints of identity theft nearly doubled in 2002. Many of these thefts originated from stolen employment records, according to USA Today.