What Can You Do to Protect Against and Recovering From Identity Theft
It’s a moment that might cause your stomach to drop, or you to pull out your hair in frustration: the moment you see a charge that isn’t yours on your credit card, or find out that a data breach has exposed your personal information. For more advice about how to recover from the skilled personal injury lawyers at Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney.
As more and more of our lives make their way online, the risk of having our identity stolen continues to increase. Identity theft can wreak havoc on your life and financial stability, limiting your ability to apply for new lines of credit and taking hours to comb through credit reports and statements for fraudulent charges. Read on to understand what constitutes identity theft, the statistics around identity theft, how you can avoid having your identity stolen, and what to do if you find yourself a victim of identity theft.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a term that is often thrown around, but it is important to understand what exactly constitutes identity theft. The federal and state governments provide definitions. The Federal Trade Commission considers identity theft when “someone uses your Social Security number or other personal information to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund.”
USA.gov defines it more broadly as any instance when “someone steals your personal information to commit fraud.” Identity theft was made a federal crime under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. Specifically, it is a criminal act to knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person 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.
Under Florida law, any individual who fraudulently uses another’s personal identification without consent is guilty of a felony.
Unlike the federal law, Florida’s law provides a robust example of what could constitute personal identification, including:
- Name, postal, or electronic mail address, telephone number, social security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, official state-issued or United States-issued driver license or identification number, alien registration number, government passport number, employer or taxpayer identification number, Medicaid or food assistance account number, bank account number, credit or debit card number, or personal identification number or code assigned to the holder of a debit card by the issuer to permit authorized electronic use of such card;
- Unique biometric data, such as fingerprint, voice print, retina or iris image, or other unique physical representation;
- Unique electronic identification number, address, or routing code;
- Medical records;
- Telecommunication identifying information or access device; or
- Other numbers or information that can be used to access a person’s financial resources.
Given the wide range of personal information available to commit a fraudulent act, it is no surprise that identity theft is increasingly common. For more specific information about your case contact the skilled personal injury lawyers at Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney.
Identity Theft Statistics
The statistics around identity theft are sobering and clearly demonstrate that every consumer should be concerned about taking steps to protect their identity. Over 14 million individuals were victims of identity theft in one recent year. To put this in perspective, individuals are more likely to suffer identity theft than car theft or home burglary. The out-of-pocket costs borne by victims is on the rise, with 3.3 million consumers responsible for a portion of the fraud committed against them with a financial toll of a total of $1.7 billion.
The most at-risk populations for identity theft are seniors and children. But in just one year, over one million children were victims of identity theft, and 35 percent of fraud complaints impacted seniors.
The top five types of identity theft are:
- Opening of new credit card accounts, accounting for 130,928 reports
- Miscellaneous identity theft, including online shopping and payment account fraud, email and social media fraud, and medical services, insurance and securities account fraud
- Tax fraud
- Opening of new mobile telephone accounts
- Credit card fraud concerning existing accounts
Florida was ranked as the state with the fourth-highest rate of identity theft, with 37,797 complaints, totaling 180 complaints per 100,000 citizens. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale region was the metropolitan area with the fifth-highest number of identity theft reports with 16,617 reports.
Examples of cases in Florida include:
- In the Southern District of Florida, a woman who fraudulently obtained a driver’s license in another’s name used the license to withdraw more than $13,000 from the victim’s bank account and obtain five department credit cards with $4,000 of charges. She was indicted and pleaded guilty to federal charges.
- In the Middle District of Florida, an identity thief was indicted on bank fraud charges for obtaining names, addresses, and Social Security numbers from a website that were used to apply for car loans over the Internet.
Data breaches are becoming an increasingly common source of personal information that can be leveraged for identity theft. The country just saw some of the worst data breaches in its history, including the Capital One breach that exposed 100 million records and the Adobe Creative Cloud breach that exposed seven million users. A total of 1,473 reported breaches took place, with 164.7 million sensitive records exposed.
Florida had the second-highest number of cybercrime victims with 27,178 citizens affected in one year. Data breaches have victimized Florida cities, including Riviera Beach, Lake City, and Fort Lauderdale. In Fort Lauderdale, the city agreed to pay $600,000 after hackers gained control of some aspects of the city’s IT systems.
Protecting Your Identity
As identity theft and data breaches become increasingly common, it is important to take steps to protect your personal information.
Take the following steps to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Review your credit report. Order your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have access to your credit report from each credit reporting company once per year. Review your credit report for any accounts that you did not open or other discrepancies. These are warning signs that someone else is using your personal information.
- Read your credit card, bank, and health insurance statements. Keep an eye out for unauthorized transactions. Also be sure to monitor the billing cycles for your accounts. If your bills or statements are late, contact the provider to make sure it isn’t being redirected. Don’t disregard small discrepancies. An identity thief may start with smaller charges to test the waters. Make sure that health insurance claims match the care you received.
- Dispose of personal information safely. One way identity theft perpetrators get personal information is dumpster diving. Ruin their efforts by shredding documents like receipts, credit offers, and account statements. Also take caution when disposing of electronics. Wipe your hard drive before disposing of a computer and delete or transfer all information before getting rid of a mobile phone.
- Don’t carry unnecessary personal documents. Any document you are carrying with you is at risk of being lost or stolen. Don’t carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, or passport unless it is necessary.
- Be cautious of information requests. Much personal information is secured by impersonators. Don’t give out any personal information over the phone, mail, or Internet unless you have confirmed the identity of the requestor. If in doubt, end the communication and contact the company directly through their customer service team. Only open attachments or download files from people you trust and avoid sharing personal information on public Wi-Fi networks.
- Create complex passwords. Be creative when creating passwords to ensure they aren’t easily guessed or hackable. Substitute numbers for letters or use special characters. Don’t overshare information on social media sites, because certain information allows identity thieves to answer the challenge questions for your accounts. If you are overwhelmed with the idea of creating and managing complicated passwords, invest in a password manager like LastPass or Dashlane.
- Invest in security software. Use anti-virus software and firewall software on your computer. If you accidentally click on a link or download a file that isn’t safe, anti-virus software can help keep your device safe and information protected. A firewall can protect your computer from malicious attacks that anti-virus software can’t stop.
- Consider identity theft monitoring services. As identity theft has continued to increase, monitoring services are also increasingly available. These services proactively monitor suspicious activity. Many services offer different ranges of protection and monitoring as well as reimbursement if the service fails to prevent identity theft. A free subscription to monitoring services is often included in settlements to data breaches. If you have been affected by a data breach, take advantage of this offer if it is made available.
The above steps may seem overwhelming, but many of them require no additional effort once you get them up and running. Even those steps that require constant vigilance and monitoring will seem like a breeze compared to work and impact of identity theft.
My Identity Was Stolen—Now What?
If you are a victim of identity theft, you can limit the potential damage.
The FTC has created a tool to report identity theft and secure a recovery plan. The recovery plan will likely include the following:
- Report the incident to the fraud department of the three major credit bureaus;
- Each of the bureaus can put a fraud alert on a victim’s credit report and provide a victim’s statement that asks creditors to contact the victim before opening any new accounts or making changes to existing accounts. The victim should also request a copy of their credit reports to review for fraudulent accounts or activity.
- Contact the fraud department of all creditors, banks, and financial institutions;
- A victim’s creditors likely include credit card, utility, and cable companies as well as any other entity to which the victim regularly makes payments. The identity theft should be reported even if no fraudulent activity has been noted for that account. Request that the accounts be frozen so no new charges can be added without consent. Change pins and passwords for all accounts.
- Report the incident to law enforcement
- In addition to filing a report with the FTC, victims should contact a local police office and provide a copy of their FTC Identity Theft Report, ID, proof of address, and proof of the theft.
The above steps map out the basic playbook for dealing with identity theft. Depending on the nature of the theft, you may need to take additional action, including:
- Correcting your credit report;
- Closing new accounts opened in your name or removing bogus charges from existing accounts;
- Reporting a misused Social Security number;
- Contacting the IRS if your Social Security number was used to file an income tax return;
- Inform any relevant insurance providers, including an identity theft insurance provider, if applicable, or homeowner’s insurance that may include identity theft resolution services;
- Dealing with debt collectors attempting to pursue debts you don’t own;
- Replacing lost IDs;
- Clearing your name of criminal charges if someone is arrested and provides your information; or
- Reviewing your medical records, clearing them of any errors, and reporting medical fraud to your health insurer
Handling all the work required to recover your identity can be time-consuming and have a significant financial impact. Depending on the scope of the fraud, victims spend anywhere from 3 to 5,840 hours repairing the damage the identity theft caused, and the average amount of time spent rectifying the damage is 330 hours.
If not handled correctly, identity theft can have lasting impacts on your credit score, which limits your future financial opportunities. To make sure your financial future is secure and to reduce the time and stress associated with the theft, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. A personal injury lawyer can assist with filing claims with the FTC and local police, placing fraud alerts and closing accounts, working to rectify credit reports, and manage communications with creditors and debt collection agencies.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814