“Identity theft is not a joke, Jim! Millions of families suffer every year!”

Dwight Schrute from “The Office” wasn’t kidding. According to Bureau of Justice statistics, 17.6 million U.S. residents were victims of identity theft in 2014 alone.

“Identity theft is any time your identity has been used for anything for monetary gain,” said Detective Shona Collins of the Oakland University Police Department.

The internet has aided criminals in weaseling information out of people and passing it on. Now that tax season has begun and people are releasing lots of personal and financial information to the Internal Revenue Service, thieves are working hard to break security barriers, steal sensitive information and possibly even sell it to other thieves. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers who target college students.

Collins said the most common scams that go after students are free money and job scams.

“We just had a couple of cases recently where this person said they could get free grant money for college students,” Collins explained. ” . . . This person was able to be so convincing that these people handed over their bank card with their PIN numbers, which you never, ever, ever want to do. The person deposited money into their account and then took a bunch of it out. And, of course, the money that was deposited into the account were bad checks.”

According to a study done by consulting firm Javelin Strategy, fraud robbed Americans of $15 billion in 2015.

Collins explained that identity crimes are hard to prosecute for two reasons. The first is that, since the victims willingly provide their financial information, they are often considered accomplices in the crime. The second reason is that these money scams often take place in multiple states, or even multiple countries, making it hard for local law enforcement agencies to go after the criminals.

“It usually hits around four to seven states before it ends up where it needs to end up,” Collins said.

She also mentioned that scams originating from Nigeria are notorious.

Since thieves are constantly evolving their methods and breaking into more advanced security systems, preventing identity theft can seem impossible. But there are ways to make yourself less of a target.

“The best thing you can do is be an informed consumer,” Collins said.

The most important thing is to never give out personal information, like Social Security numbers or bank PINs. It’s also wise to request a credit check every year and to monitor bills and credit card statements.

Consumer.gov suggests keeping all personal records in a safe place and shredding papers that have personal information on them. Collins advised getting identity insurance, which can protect identities similar to the way auto insurance helps in the event of a car accident.

It’s also important to remember that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

If something doesn’t seem right and you believe you have fallen victim to a scam, contact the local police department and your bank or credit card company immediately. Also contact major credit bureaus to minimize damages.

A list of credit bureaus and places to report identity theft can be found at www.oupolice.com/safety/idtheft/.

According to Collins, many OU employees were targeted in an IRS scam in 2014. The impact was so huge that it can still be felt today, which is why OU sent out mass emails warning the campus community about identity theft last week.

“If you’ve been hit once in identity theft, you’re probably going to get hit again,” Collins said.