SEATTLE -- Data breaches are reaching record levels across the country leading to more identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission has listed Washington state as having the second-most identity theft complaints in the nation.
The breach of the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese was a big reason for the increase, according to FTC regional director Chuck Harwood. Churches, schools and an entire hospital system with thousands of employees were part of the recent archdiocese breach. The Catholic church isn't alone. Experts say data breaches that lead to identity theft can happen with any company or organization.
Once criminals have social security numbers, fake tax returns can be filed and refund checks are issued to the wrong people.
"A consumer can do everything they want to avoid being a victim of identity theft and yet through some fault -- it's not their own at all -- [they become a victim]," Harwood said.
Around the time of the archdioceses breach and during last year's tax season, the FTC office in Seattle was flooded with complaints, according to Harwood. Between 2013 and 2014, Washington state moved from 23rd in the nation on a per capita basis for identity theft to second in the nation. The number of victims in Washington reporting the crime more than doubled from the previous year.
More than 30 percent of all fraud complaints in Washington involved identity theft last year. On average, each Washington state victim reported losing about $2,700. Harwood says there are some steps people should take if they are victimized.
"If your social security number is stolen, you really need to be especially proactive in monitoring credit reports, monitoring applications of all kids in which your name may be used," said Harwood.
To help avoid becoming a victim, experts advise filing tax returns early and checking credit reports regularly. Also, use caution before giving out your social security number.