Guest Column: Identity Theft
David B. Shoar
St. Johns County Sheriff
This month, I would like to address a very real concern and offer tips in an effort to combat Identity Theft. It is one of the fastest growing crimes in America today and affects nearly 10 million victims every year. The most recent yearly dollar loss was estimated at $52.6 billion dollars.
In order to combat identity theft you should know how it is committed and take precautions. In public places, criminals may engage in “shoulder surfing” or watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your PIN or credit card number. Some criminals may engage in “dumpster diving” where they go through your garbage cans or commercial dumpsters to obtain copies of your checks, credit card or bank statements or other records that may bear your name, address or telephone number. They may simply steal your wallet or purse. If you received any applications for “pre-approved” credit cards in the mail and discard them without shredding the information, criminals could retrieve them and attempt to activate the cards without your knowledge. Thieves could open up a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth and Social Security Number. When they use the card and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account that is in your name, is reported on YOUR credit report. They could establish cell phone service or bank accounts in your name if that obtain your personal information. So please remember to protect that information.
That protection could include limiting the amount of confidential or personal information you carry in your wallet or purse. Avoid carrying more blank checks than you actually need and NEVER have your Social Security Number printed on your checks. Keep information about your accounts in a safe place in the event your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. When on vacation, have a list of phone numbers for your banking and credit card companies and keep the list in a safe place other than your wallet or purse. Never ever respond to unsolicited requests for your Social Security Number or financial data. If you do not have one, invest in paper shredder and be sure to shred any documents containing your name and any other personal information. Check all credit card and bank statements regularly for accuracy and obtain a copy of your credit report yearly and check that for accuracy. Another helpful Internet site is: www.idsafety.org. They have a wealth of valuable information about protecting your personal information. Here are some additional tips from the F.B.I. in an effort to combat Identity Theft: Never throw away ATM receipts, credit statements, credit cards, or bank statements in a usable form. Never give your credit card number over the telephone unless you make the call. Reconcile your bank account monthly, and notify your bank of discrepancies immediately. Report unauthorized financial transactions to your bank, credit card company, and the police as soon as you detect them. Review a copy of your credit report at least once each year. Notify the credit bureau in writing of any questionable entries and follow through until they are explained or removed. If your identity has been assumed, ask the credit bureau to print a statement to that effect in your credit report. If you know of anyone who receives mail from credit card companies or banks in the names of others, report it to local or federal law enforcement authorities.
If you have been the victim of Identity Theft take the following measures. Keep a log of all conversations, including the dates, names and phone numbers when dealing with authorities and financial institutions. Confirm those conversations in writing and send all correspondence by certified mail with return receipt requested and keep all copies of that correspondence in a safe place. File a report with your local law enforcement agency providing as much documented evidence as possible. Obtain a copy of that report along with the name and telephone number of the investigator and provide it to creditors and others who require verification of your case. On the Federal level the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or the IC3 accepts online Internet crime complaints from either the actual victim or from a third party to the complainant. They can best process your complaint if they receive accurate and complete information from you. When filing a complaint you should include, your name, your mailing address, your telephone number, the name, address, telephone number, and Web address, if available, of the individual or organization you believe defrauded you, specific details on how, why, and when you believe you were defrauded, and any other relevant information you believe is necessary to support your complaint. You can file a complaint with the IC3 at www.ic3.gov.
For more information, contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov. You can also find additional information through our Crime Prevention Section on our website at www.sjso.org, or by calling the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office at 824-8304.