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Identity theft increasing at a staggering rate

Just how often is identity theft happening? And how hard it to take back your identity once it's been stolen?

Bottom line: There's no quick fix, and for most of us there's no solution.

Data scientists estimate 60 to 80 percent of Americans' social security numbers have been hacked. Picture thieves rummaging through the homes of as many as 260 million Americans and stealing their valuables. That's the estimated scope of identity theft right now in the United States.

Cyber thieves focus on nines; as in those nine numbers printed on every social security card.

"What makes identity theft possible is access to the social security number," explained Marc Rotenberg from the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Once those social security numbers are stolen, victims are likely to never again feel secure.

That means bank accounts can be unlocked, medical records seized, new credit cards opened, loans taken out and fraudulent tax returns filed.

"I'm steaming," said Christine Robinson. "I would like to do something about it!"

Robinson's identity was among the 21.5 million hacked from the federal office of personnel management in 2014.

"What am I going to personally do to hold the Federal government accountable?" she asked.

The Social Security Administration seldom issues replacement numbers. The requirements are so stringent; the administration approved less than 300 requests last year.

SSA declined our request for an interview. But based on its policies, new numbers are not given out just because a social security card is stolen. The administration says fears based on future misuse of a card is not enough of a reason to assign another one.

"I certainly don't think the Federal government can take the attitude, 'Well this is going to happen and people have to get used to it.'" said Rotenberg.

"There should be stronger laws about the misuse of a social security number and stronger protection as far as cyber-attacks," said Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).

Cyber thieves hacked more than two dozen businesses, healthcare facilities, schools and government offices, including the IRS and that was in just the first six weeks of 2016, according to the Privacy Rights Clearing House.

Even if a person gets a new number, it does not necessarily make them secure again. Many businesses and institutions keep the old number on file and will link it to a new social security card.


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