Identity Theft: The Unwelcome Holiday Guest
Now that the Celtic family are coming back from their trip to Phan for the Thanksgiving week, it’s officially holiday season! I’ve always loved the holidays. I know a lot of people don’t have good childhood memories and I feel bad for them, because my memories have always been great. To those people, I say try something different! Your past does not create your future, try different methods to get different results.
The one thing that can always ruin a holiday – even mine – would be identity theft. December is Identity Theft Awareness and Prevention month, so I figured an article detailing those “oh crap” twilight hours would be helpful for my readers. The holidays are a busy time for most people. This should be a helpful resource to refer back to so you can expedite the recovery process and get back to what really matters.
Identity Theft Statistics
Before we explain how to correct an identity theft transaction, let’s talk about how prevalent they are in society. A 2015 study was done and found that over the last six years, $112 Billion has been stolen. That’s approximately $18.5 Billion per year with the data skewing downward as the years go on (2015 saw $15 Billion gone). About 16% of all complaints registered with the FTC were for economic crimes. The top five states, per capita, with identity theft complaints were Missouri, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and Illinois with an average of 229.72 complaints per 100,000 citizens. That’s just 2015 and that’s JUST identity theft complaints!
What was most surprising to me was how the information was used. Nearly 50% of all identity theft reports were government documents or benefits fraud. At number two was credit card fraud which, I would imagine, includes debit card as well. 2015 was also an interesting year. We saw the roll out of EMV chips. That’s the chip inside of your credit card that made you look like an idiot for a while at stores – not knowing if you swiped or inserted the chip. Because of that security feature (and a security feature it is!), fraud by opening new accounts went up 113% while existing credit account fraud fell just as drastically.
Picking up the Pieces of Identity Theft
If you suspect there has been identity theft and your accounts are compromised, the first step is to call your banks and credit institutions. Simply tell them you believe your accounts are compromised and they will freeze them. After that, call your local police department or sheriff. They won’t be able to help too much, this is really just to get a case report. Certain steps later on may require that case report. I promise being told “you can’t proceed further” without the report is going to upset you a lot more than having to talk to the police first.
After you have made the call to your police, and are waiting for them to show up, go ahead and call one of the three credit bureaus. Doesn’t matter which one, I prefer Equifax. Ask them to place a fraud alert, and they will notify the other two agencies. FYI, a fraud alert is a 90 day hold on your credit that essentially requires your approval for each and every inquiry on your credit. Once you place the alert, you’ll also receive a free credit report. Check it for odd inquiries or new accounts you don’t recognize.
At this point, hopefully, the Po Po five-oh should be at your door. Go ahead and handle that matter providing all of the material they request. Once they leave, call the FTC and let them know. This doesn’t necessarily help you per se, but it does allow them to track the data and put together patterns of incidents which can help solve larger crimes. What IS important on the FTC website though is their Identity Theft Affidavit. Go ahead and fill that bad boy out. That affidavit, coupled with your police report, should be proof enough to remove any fraudulent accounts and dispute any fraudulent collectors.
From here on out, just be mindful of your credit report. Check it every year. You get one from each of the three bureaus per years. I space mine out, taking one every four months. They should all say roughly the same thing. Spacing it out helps you keep track of your finances throughout the year!
Don’t let identity thieves ruin your holidays this year or any other year! Armed with information to bring your losses back to whole should help you rest easy. Admittedly though, being a victim of identity theft is still a major bummer. All of the steps listed herein take time to complete and you’re looking at a wasted afternoon.
A couple of other things to consider. Credit cards provide you the most protection. Most cards have built in zero-liability if reported within 30-60 days. You just call the company say “Nope!” and voila, money back. You still then have to complete all the steps, you’re just off the hook for the liability. Federal law actually limits your credit losses to just $50. Debit cards however, are a little trickier. You have two days to report your losses to limit yourself to $50. From two days to sixty days you can be liable for up to $500. After 60 days, you’re out of luck and your bank cares not. You’re subject to unlimited liability.
I’ve been fortunate to have never had my identity stolen. However, family members and close friends have not been so lucky. I’ve seen their frustration levels go OVER 9000! With this course of attack though, maybe we can minimize that. All in all, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season.