The Perils of Identity Theft

How can I protect myself from identity theft?

Identity theft is a growing problem that is costing American consumers billions of dollars every year according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. In fact, it has been reported that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported over 490,000 identity fraud complaints in the last year alone.  While nearly half of these complaints were related to tax return fraud, credit card fraud, particularly the creation of bogus accounts, is also a major threat to consumers.

What is identity theft?

This crime typically occurs when someone steals an individual’s personal information such as social security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers and tax information.  This information is then used to fraudulently obtain credit or file taxes.

Most victims are unaware their identity has been stolen until they are denied for a loan, they receive bills for items they did not purchase, or they are facing credit collection activities.   While anyone can be victimized by identity theft, some groups are more vulnerable, particularly older adults, military personnel and their families.

Preventing Identity Theft

There are steps you can take to prevent identity theft, starting with protecting your social security number. A social security card should never be kept in a wallet, and your number should only be given out when necessary, never over the phone or by email. In fact you should never respond to unsolicited requests for any personal information by phone, mail, or the internet. It’s also important promptly collect your mail, since identity thieves often steal credit card bills, bank statements and other financial information. 

In addition, you should frequently monitor your banking and credit activity and shred receipts, credit offers, account statements and any other personal information before you discard it. Since personal information is often stored on a computer or mobile phone, it is crucial to create complicated passwords, install firewalls and virus protection software to prevent your information from being hacked. Lastly, you should monitor your credit status by obtaining a free copy of your credit report from one of the national credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

What To Do if Your Identity is Stolen

Although identity theft continues to be a serious threat, consumers are protected by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a federal law that requires credit reporting agencies to ensure maximum possible accuracy of the information in a consumer report. If the information on your credit report is inaccurate due to identity theft, an experienced consumer law attorney can help you dispute and correct the information. If the errors are not corrected, you can file a lawsuit to obtain a corrected credit report, and you may be entitled to financial compensation.