What is identity theft?

What is identity theft?

Megan Frounfelter
7/23/2007 – — Imagine trying to open a credit account to find your request had been declined. Your nearly perfect credit had been wiped away, and now you’ve become a victim of one of the fastest growing crimes in America. With that said, the Huron Daily Tribune is dedicating a week to cover what you need to know about identity theft.

“Identity theft is one of the top crimes on the books and is growing in popularity,” said Huron County Sheriff Kent Tibbits.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft occurs when someone uses another individual’s identifying information. Individuals committing the crime steal names, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers and other identifying information to commit fraud or other crimes. The FTC estimates that more than 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Identity theft in Michigan is greater than the national average for credit card, telephone, cell phone and utility fraud. The average victim spends about 175 hours and $1,400 to restore credit, says the Michigan Attorney General’s office.“During the past few years, the two most widespread crimes in the United States have been methanphedomine and identity theft,” said Huron County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Gaertner. According to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox’s, office, the majority of identity theft cases occur in metropolitan areas, but no community is immune from the problem.

“Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of (identity theft) cases in Huron County,” Gaertner said. “However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of cases out there. Identity theft is grossly under reported because of the embarrassment factor attached to it. People shouldn’t be embarrassed to come forward. They are a true blue victim. They didn’t ask for it.”

Although anyone is subject to the problem, the most vulnerable populations are seniors and those living in resident care facilities. Most victims of identity theft in Michigan are more than 40 years old.

Thieves often enter adult-care facilities and pose as employees or enter homes looking for personal data. Others obtain information through curbside trash or call people in hopes of learning bank account numbers or other personal information, said Detective Richard Koehler of the Huron County Office of the Sheriff.

Koehler described situations in which the victim was told by an unidentified caller that they had won a lottery or sweepstakes, but had to provide their bank account information to receive the prize, he said.

“People, especially elderly people, are convinced they are winners,” Koehler said. “Don’t commit to anything over the telephone unless you initiate the call.”

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true,” Tibbits said.

Another common way criminals obtain personal information is through a technique called “shoulder surfing.” Criminals obtain information by watching individuals write checks in a checkout lane, or other nearby location, Koehler said.

Criminals may also obtain information through pre-approved credit card applications that individuals discard without shredding the materials, or by intercepting mail that is delivered to a place where others have access.

Individuals who have become a victim of identity theft should immediately contact the three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, and place a fraud alert to stop the opening of new accounts without owner permission.

According to information released by the Michigan State Police, individuals should contact all creditors and banks with whom accounts were created or used fraudulently and complete notarized fraud affidavits.

Individuals should also contact their local police department, county sheriff’s office, or state police post to file a report, Koehler said.

The United States Department of Justice and Michigan State Police advise victims of identity theft to contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the situation at (877) 438-4338. Depending on the type of identity theft, individuals may also need to contact the local office of the Postal Inspection Service, the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, passport office, phone company and Secretary of State’s office.

“If you think you’ve become a victim of identity theft or fraud, act immediately to minimize the damage to your personal funds and financial accounts, as well as your reputation,” reads the United States Department of Justice website.

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