Identity theft is on the rise in both South Carolina and the Beaufort-Hilton Head Island area, according to reports last year to the Federal Trade Commission.
The agency recently released its 2012 data book, which ranked the Palmetto State 17th in per-capita cases of identity theft -- a jump from No. 29 in 2011.
The number of self-reported complaints in the Beaufort-Hilton Head Island statistical area increased, too -- from 167 in 2011 to 204 reports in 2012, a 22-percent climb.
According to the report, identity theft is the top consumer complaint reported to the commission nationwide for the 13th consecutive year -- and some experts believe the crime is more common than FTC statistics indicate because some victims don't know they should report their cases to the commission.
Nationally, fraud involving government documents or benefits was the most common complaint, accounting for 46 percent of all identity-theft victims.
That's what happened to Bluffton resident Arthur Abramowitz, who discovered in February that his Social Security check had been fraudulently re-routed to another bank account in South Dakota.
Abramowitz has no idea how someone obtained his Social Security number. He and his wife noticed his monthly check had not been deposited in their bank account during a routine check of their online financial records.
"It is scary, and many people don't check their account each and every month -- they just assume it's going to be there," Abramowitz said.
After spending hours at a Social Security office in Beaufort and getting only a partial refund of his monthly check, Abramowitz said no one has been able to explain how his information was compromised.
Some identity-theft victims have blamed it on massive hacking into the S.C. Department of Revenue computer system in the fall. However, department spokeswoman Samantha Cheek said it has so far been unable to determine any identity-theft cases that resulted from the security breach.
About a million South Carolina residents have signed up for a year of free credit protection offered by the state. That won't be enough to protect them, according to Tami Nealy, the senior director of corporate communications for LifeLock, a company that offers identity-theft protection.
Credit card fraud accounts for only 11 percent of all identity-theft cases, according to the FTC report. People using Social Security numbers to fraudulently file tax documents or to apply for government benefits is a far greater problem, Nealy noted.