WASHINGTON, March 13, 2014 — “Identity theft is becoming the third certainty in life,” says Adam Levin, the former director of New Jersey’s office of consumer affairs. “It’s prevalent. It’s getting worse… at some point in your life you’ll become a victim.”
Want proof? Only a fraction of incidents are made public and there are millions of identity theft stories on the Internet.
Your “identity” is your name, email, address, occupation, birthdate, social security number and other identifying information. Your information is so ridiculously easy to steal, that it’s no wonder identity theft is now the single largest crime in the world, having long ago surpassed all drug trafficking crimes put together.
Drug criminals target a select subset of the population. But everyone has an identity. The information of children and even the posthumous information of the dead are used by thieves seeking to open fraudulent accounts.
Our personal information is available almost everywhere we have been, including databases of schools, government agencies, doctor’s offices, hospitals, retail companies, insurance companies and utilities.
Many of the places our data is stored are accessible to nearly everyone possessing basic computing skills and a computer. Again and again we have seen news stories detailing the latest incidents of high-volume thievery as hackers gain access to what we thought were “protected” databases. A prime example is what occurred last year at Target, where over 110 million current and former customers’ names, credit card information, telephone numbers and emails were fraudulently obtained.
The list of famous people who have been victimized is likewise seemingly endless. It follows that if they can be victimized, so can you.
Tiger Woods. Michael Bloomberg. Will Smith. Oprah Winfrey. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Martha Stewart. The parade of victimized notables marches on. The most recent identity theft victim is Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States.
Last year, the IRS assigned more than 3,000 employees to work on identity theft cases, twice as many as the year before. yet major incidents continue to occur.
Few identity theft criminals are caught, and fewer still are prosecuted. How do you prosecute someone who lives in another country, who accessed a database in Indiana, who then used the information to open a fraudulent account in New Mexico, and finally used the new account to purchase goods in South Carolina? The logistics of the prosecution makes this typical example nearly impossible to pursue successfully.
Meanwhile, an understandably nervous American public is being played and deceived by numerous organizations that offer “Identity Theft Protection.” Imagine the fire department selling you “fire protection.” When the fire occurs they call you. You scream “are you on your way?” They reply “no, we just notify you.” What kind of protection is that?
FACT: THERE IS NO PROTECTION. THE CRIME CANNOT BE STOPPED.
Do not buy plans or subscriptions that advertise they will protect you. What these organizations do, in fact, and all they do, is monitor your credit through one or all of the three credit bureaus. If something unusual pops up, you are notified. Some companies may help you fill out forms after the fact. But bottom line: you are on your own to figure out how to fix the theft of your identity once it occurs. The company that was supposedly protecting you does nothing of substance to help you fix or reverse the problems you thought were covered.
Simply accessing your credit report can quickly reveal whether you have become an identity theft victim because “new” credit—credit you may not have authorized—will show up there. You might not ever know a thief has opened an account in your name because the thief gave the creditor a made-up address for you.
When checking your credit, do not buy so-called credit reporting scores. This information is available for free. You are allowed to obtain your free credit report once a year from each of the three official credit-reporting agencies. If you stagger your requests, you can monitor your credit every four months. Contact the first agency in January of each year. Contact the second agency in May. Contact the third agency in September. In this way you can always have a fairly recent credit report on hand without exceeding your free annual limit.
Here’s where and how to contact the three major credit bureaus to ask about or obtain your credit report or credit score, alert creditors to a possible fraud using your name, or for any other reason:
Equifax: 800-685-1111 (general) or 800-525-6285 (fraud); P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374; www.equifax.com
Experian: 888-397-3742 (general and fraud); PO Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013, www.experian.com.
TransUnion: 800-888-4213 (general) or 800-680-7289 (fraud); P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022; www.transunion.com.
There is one organization that can actually help you if you are a victim of identity theft. Kroll investigators are top risk management and response experts. They can put victims back to pre-theft status. Kroll can reverse a criminal conviction in your name in a state you’ve never visited or clear up your credit profile after hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt you did not incur work to destroy your credit history. Kroll can also fix the serious issues caused by fraudulent tax debt you did actually not incur arising out of the job you did not have.
The downside? Kroll is very expensive. The cost of resolution for one event will exceed $1,000.00. And if you are an identity theft victim, there are probably hundreds of events involved.
If you enroll in Legal Shield, an organization that provides a comprehensive legal services plan, you can include a Kroll membership and have an organization that will monitor and notify you and then resolve identity theft disasters. Family plans that include identity theft resolution with Kroll are typically less than $35.00 per month.
Additionally, if you find you are a victim of identity theft, you will need an attorney. The Legal Shield law firms across the country are typically more knowledgeable than most in handling identity theft issues because these attorneys get training from Kroll investigators.
Example: An identity thief got caught for drunk driving and gave police a very elderly lady’s name. When the thief did not show up for court, police went to the innocent lady’s house and arrested her. After much cost and unimaginable emotional trauma (picture your elderly mother or grandmother being put in handcuffs at the front door of her home), the matter was supposedly resolved with the local police. However, a connected database was not changed, and later, state police re-arrested her for the same alleged crim.
Medical insurance is viewed by most individuals as highly desirable and probably necessary for successfully dealing with the health disaster that likely will come during each of our lifetimes. But major medical issues aren’t the only serious life problem we must confront. Identity theft can and will happen and it can also destroy you.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on http://www.completeaccidentbook.com and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order
Mr. Samakow’s “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign, El Textarudo, has become nationally recognized. Please visit the website http://www.textarudo.com and “like” the concept on the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/textarudo.