Identity Theft is a growing concern in our nation. The reports consistently rank among the top consumer complaints made to the Federal Trade Commission and affect millions of Americans. Financial losses in the United States are staggering and continue to cost billions of dollars.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity Theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it without permission with the intent to assume your identity to commit fraud. Criminals will often steal your tax refund, apply for credit cards and loans, and even access your bank accounts with the intent to withdrawal your money.
The consequences of identity theft can be horrific. It can damage your finances, credit history and reputation. Repairing the damage can take significant time and is often costly. It may involve police reports, paperwork, phone calls as well as potential legal fees.
What are common types of Identity Theft?
Banking Fraud - Banking Fraud can occur two ways. The criminal could open a credit card or account using your information. He or she could also steal your debit card, credit card or checks and use them to make purchases.
Tax Fraud – Tax Fraud occurs when a thief steals your social security number and then uses it to file a fake tax return. They create a tax return that results in a large refund to them. To prevent this situation, you may be able to get a PIN from the IRS for your federal taxes. For more information, visit http://www.irs.gov.
Social Security Benefits Fraud – Social Security Benefits Fraud occurs when a criminal applies for social security benefits in your name, using your social security number. They could also use this information to re-direct your existing benefits to their own bank account.
Medical Fraud – Medical Fraud happens when a thief steals your health insurance information and uses your health insurance to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, or have medical services under your name. In addition to committing fraud, the criminal is potentially creating a permanent medical record for medical services and procedures that you did not receive, as well as adding medical conditions to your record that you don’t have.
Employment Fraud – Employment Fraud occurs when someone uses your stolen social security number to apply for a job along with their own personal information to earn wages.
Who is most at risk for Identity Theft?
We are all at risk for identity theft. However, criminals tend to target those who don’t monitor their credit reports regularly. The following groups are more susceptible than most.
Military Personnel – Regardless of veteran status, active or inactive duty, identity theft remains one of the top complaints of our nation’s service members. Men and women on active duty are especially vulnerable to identity theft because they will not receive the calls regarding debt collections on fraudulent charges and may not notice incorrect credit reports.
Children & College Students – Children make good targets for thieves. Most parents do not check their children’s credit report, and this allows for fraudulent activity to go undetected for many years. In most cases, fraud is not found until the child applies for college loans or their first credit card.
College students are so focused on getting settled into their campus lives, they rarely think that they are being targeted for identity theft, which is what makes them a particularly vulnerable group. Many students receive multiple pre-approved credit offers that are partially filled out with their name, address and other personal information. Much to the delight of the thieves, most students throw these offers away. The thieves then “trash-pick” the offer and complete the rest of the form to apply for credit in the student’s name. College students rely on public WiFi while at school. Most of these networks are not secure and allow thieves to steal confidential information. Another strategy thieves use is “shoulder surfing”. The thief essentially looks over the victim’s shoulder to see their ATM PIN.
Senior Citizens – Senior citizens tend to be more susceptible to digital theft and phone scams than any other age group. Senior citizens also usually have little debt and do not check their credit reports, which allows the identity thieves to use their information longer.
Phone scams are commonly targeted at senior citizens.
The Grandparent phone scam is when a thief calls them pretending to be a grandchild needing money immediately due to an accident or legal trouble.
Social security scam calls can say that they are trying to help the individual activate a suspended social security number or they can threaten the individual with arrest or legal action if they don’t press a number and provide information.
What are the warning signs for Identity Theft?
Depending on the type of identity theft, you may have different warning signs. Some common warning signs include:
Withdrawals from your bank accounts that you cannot explain
Unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
Debt collectors call you about debts that are not yours
The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer for whom you do not work
You received notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business
How do I recover from Identity Theft?
It could take a good deal of effort and work on your part to recover from Identity Theft, but it is crucial to repair your name, credit and reputation.
- Review all recent account statements and report any suspicious transactions
- Dispute any unauthorized transactions
- Change account numbers and credit cards
- Place a Fraud alert and Freeze all four credit reports via phone, mail or online. Applying a credit freeze is designed to prevent credit, loans and services from being approved without your consent. If you want to apply for future credit, loans and services, you will have to temporarily unfreeze your credit report during the process. Using a credit freeze is a free service, so take advantage!
- Equifax: https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/ or call 800-685-1111 (800-349-9960 if in NY)
- Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html or call 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze or call 888-909-8872
- Innovis: https://www.innovis.com/securityFreeze/index or call 800-540-2505
- Contact the local police to file a report
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) detailing the events of the theft
- Create a file to store copies of all documents and communications related to the Identity Theft
- Contact Social Security Administration’s fraud hotline at 800-269-0271
- Contact the Internal Revenue Service
- Notify any organization that has your money, including financial advisors
- Notify your medical insurance providers
Even though certain segments of the population are targeted more frequently for Identity Theft, we are all at risk. Stay vigilant. Look for the warning signs and take advantage of your free annual credit report to stay on top of your information. You can obtain your free annual credit report at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.