Every year, millions of people are affected by the intentional misuse of their personal information. “Identity Theft” can take place within families just as easily as it can result from international computer hacking scandals. There are many ways thieves and scammers can obtain your personal information and use it to steal from you and open credit accounts in your name, file fraudulent tax returns, obtain employment, and create a false version of you. With regard to tax fraud, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who enforces laws related to credit transactions, designates January 25 – 29, 2016, as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.[i] As the holidays approach, it is important to beware of identity theft and start taking measures to prevent the loss and fraudulent use of our personal information.
Purse-snatchers and muggers make up an obvious category of thieves who can take your wallet and walk off with enough information to steal your identity. When someone is robbed, they often know that the first thing to do is call and cancel credit and bank cards, often before filing a police report. However, when a thief steals our trash or mail, it could be years before an identity theft is discovered, possibly at the point of denial of a credit card, auto or home loan, by which time it is possible significant damage is done.
What happens when someone steals your identity and you do not find out until later?
Victims of identity theft might learn their identity was stolen after they are denied credit, a job or run into a tax problem, when they immediately order a copy of their credit report. Some identity theft victims who do not regularly apply for credit cards or jobs, find out a thief opened a significant amount of accounts in their names and may be spending money wildly and financing cars and luxury items. If a consumer does not often or check their credit report, years could pass before an identity theft discovery. The more time that passes, the worse the damage can be, and the more effort it can take to repair the damage. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) to provide you a copy of your credit report, free of charge, one time per year. The web link for a free credit report is www.AnnualCreditReport.com and there is an explanation on the Federal Trade Commission web page on Free Credit Reports.
Consumers can remove fraudulent accounts and contest negative credit marks as they work to restore their credit rating and reputation with lenders. The process may be complicated and involve the use of consumer protection laws including the FCRA. The Zamparo Law Group represents individuals of identity theft, using the law and experience in consumer law and identity theft and recovery to help clients rebuild their credit.
While there is no absolute way to prevent identity theft, you can make it less likely to happen.
Take out your wallet right now and look at its contents, laying everything out on the table, looking for any personal information about you to which the public would not have access. The personal information needed in a recipe for identity theft can include your full name, addresses, phone numbers, social security number, date of birth, bank, credit and utility accounts. Only carry the items you need on a daily basis. Put social security cards and other non-essential cards and information in a secure place at home.
Social media accounts, which can be hacked, contain personal information about us that can be used in identity theft. Do you publish your date of birth on Facebook? Did you just receive a friend request from someone who looks familiar enough? They could be a false friend looking for the last bit of information to go to town with your identity.
Make it a habit to protect your personal information. How often do credit card offers arrive in the mail and go directly into the trash or recycling? How often do we sit and watch our trashcans to make sure a thief does not rummage through and steal documents displaying our personal information? Go buy a shredder, any size and model, and put one or more in conspicuous places in your home so the mail with personal information goes in the shredder. Additionally, when going on vacation, make sure the mail is collected by a neighbor or held at the post office, to not leave it open to being stolen.
Order a copy of your credit report once a year or more. Make it a habit to watch out for identity theft.
Do you ever receive phone calls from creditors looking for someone who owes money for a bill? Is your phone number is the one on file with the credit card company? This is a red flag that someone could be using your phone number, and who knows what else, to open credit accounts in your name and ruin your credit rating, causing significant damage and liability. If you receive strange phone calls, mail or have a hunch that something is not right, go to Annual Credit Report[ii] and get started.
Protecting yourself is the first step, but if you are already a victim, the consumer protection attorneys at the Zamparo Law Group, P.C. can help you undo the negative effects of identity theft and help you get back on track.
The Zamparo Law Group, P.C. is a consumer protection law and litigation firm that files lawsuits against violators of the FCRA and federal and state consumer protection laws. Teaching consumers how to spot consumer rights violations is important because informed consumers can stand up to those who violate the law.
To learn more about consumer protection law and the Zamparo Law Group, please visit the firm’s website. You may also ask for a free case review. The Zamparo Law Group is connected on social media, please follow us and share our resources we share on our Facebook page. You may call the Zamparo Law Group with any questions by dialing (224) 875-3202.