Identity Theft

Identity theft is a crime! It became a federal crime in the United States in 1998, with the passage of the Identity Theft Assumption and Deterrence Act. This act identifies offenders as anyone who "knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, any name or number that may be used, alone or in conjunction with any other information, to identify a specific individual with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law."

An important characteristic of identity theft is the continuous victimization of a single person. This may include repeatedly using a stolen credit card, taking over a card account, or using stolen personal information to open new accounts. A survey conducted by the Federal Trade Commission found that 16 percent of victims whose credit cards were misused said the people responsible had also tried to "take over" the accounts by doing such things as changing the billing address or adding themselves to the card as an authorized user.

Identity theft continues to top the Federal Trade Commission’s national ranking of consumer complaints, and American consumers reported losing over $1.6 billion to fraud overall in 2013, according to the FTC’s annual report.

Identity theft takes many forms. One facet involves the use of stolen Driver’s License information. As you know a driver’s license is the primary means of identification and is used in many financial transactions. Next is stolen Social Security Numbers (SSN). The SSN is often used as a form of identification and can be used to open bank and credit card accounts. Many migrant workers use stolen SSNs to obtain work illegally. You may not discover this until the IRS comes knocking at your door trying to collect taxes on earnings you know nothing about.

Another rising identity theft area involves the abuse of Medical records. Using a stolen identity thieves obtain medical treatment and drugs. This produces fraudulent medical records that affect your ability to obtain employment, insurance, medical coverage, or drugs. Identity theft can also impact your character. Crimes committed in your name can mean a false criminal record and even cause a warrant for your arrest!

How does identity theft happen? One method thieves use is going through your trash for account numbers and other personal information. Make sure you use a crosscut shredder on any trash containing personal information that could be used to identify you. And don’t leave your trash out all night before the garbage is collected. Another scheme is stealing your mail. Collect your mail quickly from the box and have the Post Office hold your mail while you are on vacation. The old fashioned method of stealing your wallet or purse is still very popular. Even more so now since not just cash is stolen.

Internet identity theft is on the rise as well. The two main ways are Phishing and the use of Viruses. What is phishing? Simply put it is targeted email scamming. The phisher fools you into divulging private identifying information or convinces you to send money. These scam artists have become very sophisticated. They create very convincing e-mails connected to fake web sites that look identical to the original. For example: you receive an e-mail that looks like an official letter from your bank. It has the bank’s logo, address, and very official language stating that the bank needs to "verify" your account information. "There is a problem and we may close your account!" Just click on the convenient website link and fill out the online form. When you click, you are taken to a very official web site. The scam artists have actually copied the bank’s own site. When you arrive you are asked to fill out a form with your bank account number, birth date, password, SSN, etc. When you click OK you are told everything is now fine. Fine that is for the thief. He can now logon to your bank account and withdraw all your hard earned money! Always verify all requests for private information before giving any web-site personal data. Banks, stores, governments and corporations never ask for private information. They will only ask for information after you have requested a new account or asked to edit your information. You came to them first not the other way around.

Viruses are used to first infect unprotected computers then download malicious software. Viruses can search your computer for personal identity information and install "Keylogger" software. Keylogger software records each button pushed (keystroke) on your keyboard. It sends this information daily back to the hacker. He will look for patterns such as bank websites, account logon’s, passwords and account numbers. You will not know you are infected until your account is emptied or you start receiving bills for accounts you never opened!

Another top target of identity thieves are your “contacts”. When a hacker breaks into your PC or phone the first thing they steal are all your contact information. They then quickly send fake emails to all your friends that seem to come from you! The hacker knows that your friends are more likely to answer an email from you than a stranger.

According to the FTC brochure on Identity Theft: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0014-identity-theft.pdf

The Red Flags of Identity Theft are:

  • mistakes on your bank, credit card, or other account statements
  • mistakes on the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan
  • your regular bills and account statements don’t arrive on time
  • bills or collection notices for products or services you never received
  • calls from debt collectors about debts that don’t belong to you
  • a notice from the IRS that someone used your Social Security number
  • mail, email, or calls about accounts or jobs in your minor child’s name
  • unwarranted collection notices on your credit report
  • businesses turn down your checks
  • you are turned down unexpectedly for a loan or job

If you feel you may be the victim of Identity Theft the FTC has helpful information here: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft

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