headshotcropI am one of the more than 9 million people in the United States to have my identity stolen this year. However, I was more fortunate than many of the other victims because I discovered the theft early and immediately took the necessary steps to protect my finances and credit and to reduce any negative fallout.
Identify theft happens when someone uses your personal information — your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information — without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. Identify theft is big business in the U.S. – and no one is immune. Not even my fellow Eastern Kentuckians. And, sadly the number of victims continues to increase each year. An identity is stolen once every three seconds, according to the 2012 Identity Fraud Report: Social Media and Mobile Forming the New Fraud Frontier.
Identity theft is serious. It can take months and years – not to mention your hard-earned money – to undo the damage done to your credit record and clearing your name. And, while you are taking care of this problem, you can lose job opportunities, be turned down for loans, or even be arrested.
When I discovered that my personal information had been breached, I contacted Steve Pack with Pack, Jones and Associates. He knew exactly what I should do and we immediately contacted the IRS. I learned some very useful information from the IRS. Some of those tips include:
How to minimize becoming a victim:
Don’t carry your social security card or any documents with your SSN on it.
Don’t give a business you SSN just because they ask – only when absolutely necessary.
Protect your financial information.
Check your credit report every 12 months.
Secure personal information in your home.
Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-span/virus software, update security patches and change passwords for internet accounts.
Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact and are sure who you are dealing with.
What to do if you are a victim of identity theft:
Report incidents of identify theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or the FTC Identify Theft hotline at 1-877-4338 or TTY 1-866-653-4261.
File a report with the local law enforcement.
Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax -www.equifax.com or 1-800-325-6285; Experian - www.experian.com or 1-888-397-3742, or TransUnion – www.transunion.com or 1-800-680-7289.
My experience was related to the IRS so I quickly learned that identity theft can impact your tax records. For instance, your social security number can be used to get a job and that person’s employer would report the W-2 wages earned using your SSN to the IRS – giving the appearance that you did not report all of your income. Also, when you file your return, the IRS will think you have already filed and received a refund. If you receive a letter from the IRS that states that more than one return has been filed or that IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you, be alert to the possibility of identity theft. If you think your tax records are at risk because of a lost purse or wallet or questionable credit card activity, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. For additional information, go to IRS.Gov (keyword identity theft). Remember, the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers via e-mail nor request detailed personal information via e-mail.
If your identity is stolen, be sure to notify creditors disputing any unauthorized transactions.
Thieves can steal an identity through a number of methods:
Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with personal information on it.
Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using special storage devise when processing your card.
Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
Forms of identity theft include:
Credit Card fraud.
1. They open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.
2. They may change the billing address on your credit card so you no longer receive bills and then run up charges.
1. They may create counterfeit checks using your name and account number.
2. They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
3. They may clone your ATM or debit card and make electronic withdrawals, draining your account.
4. They may take out a loan in your name.
Government documents fraud:
1. They may get a driver’s license or official ID card in your name with their picture.
2. They may use your name and SSN to get government benefits.
3. They may file a fraudulent tax returning using your information.
1. They may a job using your SSN.
2. They may rent a house or get medical services using your name.
3. They may give your personal information to police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest would be issued in your name.
I hope that you never experience any form of identity theft, but in the event that you are, this information should help you to know where to turn to for help. Being more aware of how these thieves work and what you can do to protect your identity may help prevent such a travesty from happening to you.
Senator Johnny Ray Turner represents Breathitt, Floyd, Knott and Letcher counties.