Protect a good name
|8/25/2007 – Before he became a financial adviser, Mike Miller was a police officer for 20 years and a graduate of the FBI National Academy. That’s why Miller was a little surprised to find himself the victim of identity theft — not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions.
The first time it was a charge on his wife’s credit card account from a purchase in Singapore. They were able to get the charges removed and then canceled the card. The second time, Miller got a letter in the mail from his credit card company saying his request to transfer $9,000 had been denied. “I never made that request,” recalls Miller. He called the credit card company and canceled the card.
The third time, someone from out of state placed charges on his business check card, which he was later able to have removed. If identity theft can happen to Miller — an identity theft expert who leads seminars on the topic — it can happen to anyone. Fortunately, Miller knew the right steps to take to minimize the damage and curtail further breaches. Identity theft can happen to anybody anywhere at any time, so it’s important to know how to deal with it.
Last year, identity theft cost victims about $56.6 billion, according to a research report by the Better Business Bureau and Javelin Research. Minnesota ranks 33rd nationally in identity theft cases, with 2,872 reported last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Nationwide, 246,035 cases were reported.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, said Miller, managing director of Integra Shield Financial Group in Plymouth. “There are millions of cases each year that go unreported. Identity theft has exploded. If you lose your purse or your wallet, within 24 hours someone in Russia — or anywhere in the world — could have your identity.”
Count the ways
Identity theft comes in many forms. Credit cards, bank accounts and brokerage accounts are probably the most common targets, but college students are being preyed upon increasingly by ID thieves who steal their identity to take out student loans. ID thieves have also started tapping into health insurance accounts to pay for medical services. One victim was shocked to see that he had been billed for a hospital surgery that was apparently performed on someone else who used his insurance policy.
Social Security numbers are also at risk. Last year, authorities rounded up 1,300 illegal aliens in Minnesota and five other states who all were registered to work with stolen Social Security numbers.
How do thieves get access to your personal information? They use a variety of means, both high tech and low. In Georgia, one gang of thieves looked for raised flags on residential mailboxes to steal outgoing mail left for the carrier. When the gang was busted, police found 14,000 credit card numbers on its laptop.
Natural disasters are also a favorite ploy of ID thieves. “More than half of the websites soliciting contributions after Katrina were bogus,” Miller said.
Cyber-thieves often send e-mails appearing to be from banks, retailers, government agencies — even the FBI — informing you that you could face problems if you don’t log into their links and reenter your personal information. “Don’t even click on the links,” he said. “That could give them access to your computer.”
Bogus phone calls are another way thieves phish for personal information. “In one case, thieves were calling people posing as court employees and informing the victims that they were up for jury duty,” Miller said. “They were asking for Social Security numbers and credit card numbers and threatening the victims with fines if they didn’t comply.”
Preventing ID theft
Rule No. 1 in preventing identification theft is: “Don’t give out any personal information unless you initiated the contact,” Miller said.
• Never throw anything with your personal information in the trash — especially preapproved credit card offers. “Shred everything,” Miller said. “Cross-cutter shredding is the best.”