Tell Mel: Identity theft costly in Florida

Tell Mel: Identity theft costly in Florida

I came back from vacation on Tuesday and I was greeted with really bad news.

The 2012 report on fraud and identity theft was released by the Federal Trade Commission and Florida took first place in both categories with 693.5 complaints of fraud for every 100,000 people and 361.3 complaints of identity theft for every 100,000 in population.

When metropolitan areas were ranked for per capita identity theft rates, Naples-Marco Island was No. 2 on the list, Cape Coral-Fort Myers was No. 4 and Punta Gorda was No. 11.

In the report for 2011, Naples was #23, Fort Myers No. 49 and Punta Gorda No. 15. From 2011 to 2012 the number of identity theft complaints made by Floridians more than doubled.

The data was compiled from complaints to the FTC, Internet Crime Complaint Center, Better Business Bureaus, state law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and private companies such as MoneyGram International and Publisher’s Clearing House. It wasn’t a comprehensive survey.

So is it possible that Floridians are simply complainers who made their dissatisfaction known to the authorities? I don’t think so. I think we’re getting hosed.

I regularly get calls, emails and letters from people who have been victims of a fraud. And I often have to beg these people to report it, something many are wont to do.

One recent caller told me her husband didn’t want to complain. “He just wants to forget about it and move on,” she said.

How much was he willing to move on from? $5,000.

That’s just about the average amount lost by Floridians who report being victims of fraud according to the Consumer Sentinel Network that released the FTC report. And it’s the highest average amount reported in 2012 for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only one other state came close and that was Nevada, with an average reported fraud loss of $4,489.

And the problem could be even worse than it looks from this report.

“Who knows if everyone who was a victim of identity theft made a report? This has the potential to be under-reported,” said Tami Nealy, senior director of corporate communications for LifeLock, an identity protection company.

People tend to equate ID theft with credit card theft. That’s only a small part of it, as Nealy pointed out, credit card fraud represented only 7 percent of the identity theft reported in Florida.

Nealy said that people are putting their heads in the sand when it comes to identity theft.

“It’s time for Floridians to stop saying, ‘This isn’t going to happen to me,’” Nealy said.

Topping the list of identity theft complaints from 69,795 Florida victims was, “government documents or benefits fraud.”

Sadly, this too is not surprising. Every couple of weeks I get a report from the FBI detailing the bust, conviction or sentencing of someone involved in the tax fraud/identity theft.

The most recent report involved a South Florida man accused of cashing more than $12 million worth of income tax refund checks. According to the FBI he used his share of the money — he split it with the check cashing business and the criminals who supplied the checks — to buy eight luxury cars including a 2012 Porsche and a 2013 Bentley, a home for himself and one for his mom.

When he was arrested he was found to have 35 refund checks totaling about $120,000. One of the checks was issued to a person who was dead.

Try to protect your ID. Be vigilant and consider signing up for an identity theft protection service. For a couple this can cost about $250 a year, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what an identity theft can cost.

Legal Shred
235 Apollo Beach Blvd #507
Apollo Beach, FL 33572