Have You Been the Victim of Identity Theft?
Every year, millions of adults in the United States are reported victims of identity theft, and countless more occurrences go undocumented. As people increasingly use the Internet to perform their financial and commercial transactions, their personal information becomes more accessible to hackers and technologically savvy criminals.
Everyone is at risk for identity theft, but the elderly are targeted more frequently than other age groups. According to recent reports by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), senior citizens account for over 20% of identity theft victims. This is thought to be because senior citizens typically have higher credit lines and more financial resources than younger people, and generally have less experience with technology and the Internet. Elderly people can better protect themselves against identity theft with information about preventing and recovering from identity theft. If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, please scroll down to the section entitled “What should I do if I believe I have been the victim of identity theft?” near the bottom of this page.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft happens when a person knowingly and fraudently uses another person’s information in order to obtain goods, services, and credit. In California, the general civil definition of identity theft is:
Penal Code Section 530.5
“Identity theft” occurs when a person
- willfully obtains personal identifying information… of another person, and uses that information for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, real property, or medical information without the consent of that person
- willfully obtains personal identifying information of another person, uses that information to commit a crime…
- with the intent to defraud, acquires or retains possession of the personal identifying information
- with the intent to defraud, sells, transfers, or conveys the personal identifying information
What “personal identifying information” puts a person at risk for identity theft?
According to the California Penal Code Section 530.55, “personal identifying information” includes any or any combination of the following:
– Birth date
– Social Security Number
– Telephone number
– Health insurance number
– Taxpayer identification number
– State or federal driver’s license
– Credit card number
– Bank savings or checking account number
– Government passport number
– Employee identification number
– Any equivalent form of identification
With this information, a perpetrator of identity theft can access any number of personal financial accounts. The perpetrator can order merchandise and charge it to the victim’s credit card or bank account; set up phone accounts under the victim’s name; and take out loans using the victim’s name and credit lines. They can also gain employment under the victim’s name and drain medical benefits.
Who is at risk for identity theft? Why are the elderly particularly at risk?
Identity thieves target victims across all demographics, but unfortunately, the past decade has seen an increase in the targeting of elderly people. In 2001, incidents of identity theft with victims over the age of 60 increased by 218 percent.
Elderly people are particularly at risk for identity theft, as well as other forms of financial abuse, because they tend to have amassed more savings and higher credit ratings over their lifetimes. Retirement funds are increasingly targeted by perpetrators of identity theft. Elderly people are also less familiar with digitized versions of financial accounts and funds, and therefore less likely to check their accounts on a regular basis. Elderly people tend to have or have had fixed incomes and are targeted by scam artists with a much higher rate than the rest of the population. Geographic solitariness and dependence on caregivers and advisors are other factors that lead to an increased incidence of identity theft among elderly people.
How can someone know if he or she has been the victim of identity theft?
One of the deadliest things about identity theft is its silence. A victim can be unaware of the identity theft for months or even years. According to the FTC, the average victim of identity theft is unaware of the theft for 12 months. If any of the following has happened to you, you may be a victim of identity theft:
– You have received a letter or a call regarding approval or denial for a credit card account that you did not request
– You have received a letter or a call from a debt collection agency about debts you have not personally accrued
– You notice that your credit card statements or mail is missing
– Your bank statement has unexplained withdrawals and charges
What are some ways to prevent identity theft?
One of the best ways to prevent identity theft is to regularly check and monitor all financial accounts, statements, and funds.
It is also important to avoid giving out personal information over the phone or Internet. Avoid giving out information, especially bank and retirement account numbers and social security numbers to caregivers.
Identity theft can occur when a perpetrator finds the victim’s information in a digitized or hard copy. To prevent the latter, it is important to shred important documents so as to prevent “dumpster-diving” identity thieves from accessing personal information. It is also effective to shred or cut up old credit cards.
What should I do if I believe I have been the victim of identity theft?
If you believe that you or someone close to you has been the victim of identity theft, you should take the following actions as soon as possible to prevent further theft and to help recuperate lost property.
- Choose any of three nationwide credit report agencies to contact by phone to place a fraud alert on your account. The agencies are TransUnion (1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com); Equifax (1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com); and Experian (1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com) You only need to contact one of these agencies, and it will contact the other two.
- After you have placed a fraud alert on your account, you should request and receive free copies of your credit reports. Once you receive these, review them carefully and look for expenses and purchases you did not make; accounts you did not open; debts you cannot understand or explain; and inquiries from companies you have not contacted. Make sure that all your personal information is accurate. If you find any of the above listed inconsistencies or misinformation you should notify the credit report agency.
- Close any accounts that look suspicious. If an account on your credit report shows purchases or transactions you did not make, call the security department of that account’s company and notify them of both your fraud alert and your decision to close your account. Follow up in writing and keep a copy of the written response from the company. When you open up new accounts, choose new PIN numbers, passwords, and security questions.
- Notify law-enforcement officials by filing a police report where the incident of identity theft occurred or where your accounts are based.
- File a complaint with the FTC by phone (1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)); by mail (600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580); or on-line (www.ftc.gov/idtheft).
What legal measures are in place to help victims or potential victims of identity theft?
Over the past two decades, Congress has passed several bills with the intent of keeping personal information out of the public domain and protecting citizens from identity theft. Some examples of these are:
– Social Security Number Misuse Prevention Act of 2007
– Seniors Safety Act of 2003
– Identity Theft Victim Assistance Act of 2003
– Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998
In addition, California has just established a new eCrime Unit to help fight cybercrime such as identity theft.
© 2014 The Evans Law Firm