Identity theft can be extremely scary, stressful, and inconvenient. Unfortunately, it affects 1 in 15 people, and it can happen to anyone regardless of age, income, credit score, or location. Due to the ever-present risk of identity theft, it is important for consumers to know what it is, how it happens, how to prevent it, and what steps to take if it happens to them. The best thing a victim of identity theft can do is hire an experienced attorney to effectively correct the issue.
WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT?
We have all heard the term “identify theft,” but do we really know what it means? Identity theft occurs when a criminal accesses personal identifiable information for use in committing fraud or gaining some other type of financial benefit at another person’s expense. Personal identifiable information includes a person’s name, birthday, address, social security number, employment and educational history, and much more.
Criminals use personal data for a variety of purposes, including opening new credit card accounts, making fraudulent purchases, logging into private accounts, opening new phone and utility accounts, changing billing addresses on existing accounts, and even obtaining a fraudulent driver’s license or ID card in someone else’s name.
One third of adults in the United States have been victims of identity theft, which is twice the global average. In 2017, over one million children in the U.S. were victims of identity theft. Children are increasingly becoming victims of criminals using their social security numbers to open accounts in their names, ruining their credit before they even turn 18. Even more alarming is the fact that one in five identity theft victims will experience it more than once.
HOW DOES IDENTITY THEFT HAPPEN AND HOW CAN I PREVENT IT?
In the age of the internet, we are all susceptible to having our information stolen. Unfortunately, the information criminals seek for identity theft is the same information many businesses store and transfer online and on servers. The average consumer’s information is stored on dozens to hundreds of servers around the world.
A common cause of identity theft is a data breach. This occurs when private information is somehow leaked, whether due to hacking, unauthorized access, employee error, or negligence. Data breaches can occur in any industry, including business, healthcare, banking, and education. One of the most serious data breaches was the Equifax breach in 2017, which exposed the personal identifiable information of 145 million people.
Another common method for criminals to steal personal information is through WiFi. Online shopping is popular for its convenience, but if you shop on public or unprotected WiFi, your purchase could cost you a lot more than what is in your cart. In fact, credit card fraud committed online is 81% more common than point-of-sale fraud (where a thief has access to the physical credit card). The safest way to shop online is on password-protected WiFi. You should avoid logging into any of your accounts on public WiFi, as it is easy for hackers to access your computer and steal login information through these networks.
When you are using the internet, it is also important to pay attention to whether or not websites are encrypted. Encrypted websites ensure that any hackers “eavesdropping” on your internet connection cannot tell what you are doing on the site. You should never fill in any personal information on an unencrypted website, as they are not secure and may put you at risk to have your information stolen. There are a couple of ways to tell if a website is encrypted or unencrypted. Most web browsers will display a locked symbol next to the URL at the top of your page if the website is secure and an unlocked symbol if the website is unsecure. Another way to tell that a website is secure is if it starts with “HTTPS,” which stands for “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.”
Thieves are not limited to using the internet to access private information. Criminals also access personal data through methods such as dumpster diving and mail theft, which involve physically stealing bills, statements, and receipts from trash cans and mailboxes. To avoid these types of theft, it is best to shred any documents with personal identifiable information and to use a locking mailbox if possible.
Additionally, thieves steal purses and wallets to gain access to credit cards, loyalty and rewards cards, and drivers’ licenses. These items can be used to steal retirement benefits, access bank accounts, and even obtain employment or pose as a different person when being questioned by law enforcement.
Shoulder surfing and credit card skimming are other ways that criminals steal information without using the internet. Shoulder surfing occurs when a person stands close by and watches as someone enters their PIN at an ATM or during a sales transaction. The easiest way to avoid this is by covering the PIN pad as you enter your PIN. Credit card skimming occurs when criminals install a device known as a “skimmer” onto an ATM or card reader. The skimmer then steals people’s credit card numbers and PINs as they use the ATM or card reader. Gas station card readers are a common place for criminals to install skimmers.
Phone scams are another common method used to access personal information. These scams involve phone calls that ask a person to verify personal information like their birthday or social security number. Many times, criminals pose as a bank or utility company calling to warn people of suspicious activity on their accounts. Then, the criminal asks the person to verify personal information. If you receive a suspicious phone call, the best thing to do is ask who is calling, hang up, and then look up the company’s real phone number on your bill or statement. Call their real phone number to determine if there really is any suspicious activity on your account.
Phishing and other email scams are very similar to phone scams, except they occur online. Scam emails may ask you to verify a purchase and provide a link that leads to a page asking you to fill in personal identifiable information. These emails often appear to come from a well-known retailer or bank. Instead of clicking links or attachments from suspicious emails, it is better to log into your bank account through your banking app or website to determine if any fraudulent activity has taken place on your account.
HOW WILL I KNOW IF MY IDENTITY HAS BEEN STOLEN?
A study by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) found that criminals acted on stolen personal data within 9 minutes of obtaining it. For that reason, it is important to be diligent in determining whether your data has been put at risk.
If you receive unfamiliar bills or statements in the mail, it could be a sign that someone has stolen your identity and opened an account in your name. If you stop receiving bills or statements that you normally receive, it could also be a sign that your information has been stolen. Criminals who obtain your personal data can log into your existing accounts and change the billing address so that your bills and statements are sent to them. This allows them to access additional information from the bill.
Additionally, your information may be compromised if you start receiving phone calls from creditors or collectors attempting to collect on debts for purchases you did not make. You should regularly check your bank statements for suspicious purchases, as this is an easy way to determine if there are fraudulent purchases on your account.
If you find that your claims or applications are being rejected at a higher rate than usual, this could be another sign that someone has accessed your personal data and used it fraudulently, resulting in negative reporting on your credit reports.
Receiving a new credit card in the mail when you did not request one or not receiving a new credit card after you did request one are both signs that your information has been compromised. If either of these scenarios happen, contact your bank immediately.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY IDENTITY IS STOLEN?
If you find out that your identity has been stolen, you need to take immediate action. First, you must call the fraud department for each of your accounts to notify them of the situation. Next, you should place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Once these steps have been taken, you should contact your local police department and file a police report to document the situation. Be sure to keep a copy of the police report, as you will need it later. Finally, change your login information and PINs on your accounts, as they may have been compromised.
HOW WE CAN HELP
Did you know that identity theft victims often pay out of pocket expenses that are never reimbursed? It can be tedious and confusing to navigate the process of correcting the effects of a stolen identity. Furthermore, it creates added stress and inconvenience to the lives of the victims. This is why it is in your best interest to retain a law firm that is experienced in handling identity theft cases.
Atlas Consumer Law will handle your identity theft case at absolutely no cost to you. On your own, the process can take over a year, and even then the credit reporting bureaus may not correct the false information on your credit reports. Atlas Consumer Law has years of experience and a team of lawyers you can rely on.
Atlas Consumer Law will assist you in sending disputes to the credit reporting agencies. The big three credit reporting agencies are Equifax Information Services, LLC (“Equifax”), Experian Information Solutions, Inc. (“Experian”), and TransUnion, LLC (“TransUnion”). As stated above, it is important that you keep a copy of the police report outlining the circumstances of your identity theft, as this will be submitted along with your disputes. Once the agencies receive your disputes, it is their job to contact the companies who initially reported the disputed information. At that point, the original reporter must review its records to determine whether the information is accurately reported or needs to be deleted or modified.
Unfortunately, inaccurate credit reporting is often not resolved through the dispute process. Luckily, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) is a federal law that provides protections for consumers by ensuring the information contained in their credit reports is accurate, private, and fair. The FCRA regulates how credit reporting agencies obtain, access, utilize, and share the data in consumer reports.
The FCRA requires credit reporting agencies and creditors to correct inaccurate or incomplete information on consumers’ credit reports. If a credit reporting agency or creditor fails to comply with the FCRA, Atlas Consumer Law can file suit on your behalf to hold them accountable for their violations of the law. Once again, we will assist you at no cost to you. We get paid by the credit bureaus if they violate the FCRA, and you may collect statutory damages of up to $1,000 or any out of pocket actual damages you may have.
Atlas Consumer Law has a team of experienced attorneys, paralegals, and support staff specifically trained in assisting consumers with correcting inaccurate information on their credit reports. Here at Atlas, we understand how stressful the credit repair process can be for identity theft victims. We understand that you have been the victim of a crime that creates undue inconvenience and stress in your life. It is our pleasure to lift a weight off our clients’ shoulders by ensuring that they do not have to navigate this tricky process alone. We will advocate for you every step of the way.
CONTACT ATLAS CONSUMER LAW
If you have been a victim of identity theft, please call us at (312) 313-1613 for a free evaluation. We assist consumers across the country and are A+ Rated by the Better Business Bureau®. Several of our team members have been honored as Super Lawyers®. Our experienced team has assisted consumers for years. We are the firm to call when you need legal help with identity theft and credit reporting errors. At Atlas Consumer Law, you can find a comprehensive solution for identity theft, foreclosure, bankruptcy, and creditor harassment.