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For the 11th straight year, identity theft topped the list of complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). More frightening than that, Florida is the number one state for identity theft in the nation. As scary as it may be knowing someone could have your credit card and social security information, there are some proactive steps you can take to ensure you have less of a chance of being a victim.
One of the most common types of complaints filed with the FTC are related to government documents or benefits fraud, such as someone collecting your social security benefits or even filing your taxes before you and directly depositing the refund into their account.
But why has identity theft become so prevalent today? “We look at some of the technologies we have in place from Bluetooth to wireless internet at fast food restaurants to 35,000 feet up on an airplane, these conveniences make it easier for thieves to access your data,” says Tami Nealy, senior director of corporate communications for Lifelock, a company specializing in proactive identity theft protection. And if that doesn’t work, there’s the old fashioned way: scare tactics.
Nealy says that one tactic that identity thieves have used for years involves posing as a government organization to establish trust, instilling fear and then providing a solution. For example, they may call and say they’re with the county court system and you missed jury duty. As a result, there is a bench warrant out for your arrest. By now you’re most likely upset or panicked and when you say you never received a summons, the theif-in-disgusie will say they can correct the issue if you can verify your name, home address and social security number. Just like that, your identity has been stolen.
“The thing to remember in these cases is that you didn’t make that phone call,” says Nealy. “What did you do to verify the person on the other end of the line is who they say they are?” That’s exactly what Jane Smith* of Waterford Lakes learned when she gave her information over to an identity thief posing as a financial aid specialist for the University of Central Florida. “I just assumed they were legitimate when they said they couldn’t read my file correctly,” she says. “I gave them whatever information they asked for and a few months later, I went to use a credit card and it was maxed out. I had never really used it and when I looked into it, I found out that they had about $6,000 worth of things charged between a few cards.”
To protect yourself, Nealy suggests taking inventory of who you’ve given your social security number too. Of course your dentist and employer have it, but who else? “The truth is many of the organizations we give our social security number to, such as a local grocer when signing up for a discount card or a public library, don’t need the number at all so always ask what it’s for and what you won’t get if you don’t give out the number.”
You can also check your credit score every four months without negatively hurting your score for free by visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com, according to Nealy. “If I had known about the service back then, you can bet I would’ve been checking viligently like I do now,” says Smith, referencing the credit reports. “It would’ve saved me so much headache.”
In early March, one of the nation’s largest e-mail marketing firms, Epsilon Marketing, was breached giving thieves millions of e-mail addresses from around the nation. You may recall seeing an e-mail from Target, Best Buy, xxx or one of the other 2,500 companies Epsilon has a client informing you of the breach and instructing you not to open any e-mails with links or provide any personal information through e-mail. This means your e-mail may have been compromised in the breach.
“The good news is, all they got were names and e-mails,” says Nealy. “The bad news is that unless we all change our e-mail addresses, they’re going to try to lure us into a deal that’s too good to be true and the next thing you know you press ‘Checkout’ on a website that looks just like the retailers and you’ve given them your address, credit card information and who knows what else.” Nealy expects that the thieves will wait until November or December to cash in on the data they’ve received and cautions everyone to be weary of what you open via e-mail.
“We’re vulnerable every day, and I say that not as a scare tactic, but, unfortunately, as the truth,” says Nealy.
*Name changed at the request of the source.
Article by Corey Gehrold