When it comes to identity theft, Kane County Undersheriff Pat Gengler said thieves have 100,000 potential targets just in his agency's jurisdiction alone.
But, he said, "They only really need to get one to be successful."
While people are used to the precautions against residential burglaries, such as keeping lights on outside and telling neighbors when they'll be on vacation, Gengler said the approach is much different with identity theft, as thieves use numerous tricks to obtain personal information.
"That's what these people do all day long," he said.
According to the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 16.6 million people – about 7 percent of those 16 and older in the United States – were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2012, resulting in a total financial loss of $24.7 billion.
Of the victims, about 15.3 million reported the misuse or attempted misuse of an existing credit card or bank account, according to the bureau. Additionally, it reported, about 1.1 million had their information misused to open a new account, and more than 800,000 people had their information misused for other fraudulent purposes.
Locally, reports of identity theft are common.
Recent police reports included a Sugar Grove resident whose credit card was used to make four fraudulent charges since May, totaling more than $1,300, and Elburn residents reported their checking account was used for a $4,000 transaction in Minnesota.
In another case from Elburn, a resident told police her Social Security number was used to open a utility account in Texas that racked up a bill of $1,479.79.
Gengler said catching identity thieves can be "extremely difficult," as there is a good chance they live out of state or in another country.
"It's tough to even identify these people," he said.
But arrests do happen. Of the 22 identity theft investigations in St. Charles last year, three arrests were made, while 12 were transferred to outside agencies, according to the St. Charles Police Department's annual report.
More recently, St. Charles resident Peter A. Mazzara, 36, last month turned himself in on a warrant carrying charges of identity theft, theft and forgery. According to a St. Charles police report, he worked as an independent insurance agent and is accused of compromising a former coworker's identity to steal about $3,200 from an insurance company. He reportedly had access to work files containing information pertaining to insurance policies and companies issuing them.
In Batavia, police last week charged 55-year-old Edward Arbet of Batavia with felony aggravated identity theft, among other offenses. Arbet reportedly tried to buy clothing with a stolen credit card.
"In this case, we were able to speak to our original victim, who was a shop owner who knew who Eddie Arbet was," Batavia Detective Kevin Bretz said.
He said police often won't get a call from victims until they check their bank statements – behavior he encourages.
"Watch your statements," Bretz said, noting offenders might make small purchases before moving to bigger amounts. "Be safe. It's your money. You earned it."
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in about two-thirds of the identity theft cases in 2012, the victims didn't know how their information was obtained, and many victims discovered the theft when their financial institution alerted them to suspicious activity.
People can take precautions toward protecting their information, Bretz said. His suggestions include using debit cards as credit cards, not losing sight of your credit card, making online purchases on secure sites and shredding or incinerating sensitive documents when getting rid of them.
"As soon as you see something's not right," he said, "contact the fraud division of your credit card company."
Bretz said his police department might get three to four reports of fraudulent activity a week. The number, he said, depends on people reporting when they've been scammed into giving their personal information.
"A lot of people are embarrassed and don't report it," Bretz said. "Tell us. Let us know so we can try to help you out."
Victims of identity theft can call the Illinois Attorney General's identity theft hotline at 1-866-999-5630.
Visit www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/consumers for information about protecting your identity and what to do in cases of identity theft.