Quinlan Legal Update: Identity theft - prevention, victim guidance and resources
How not to get hooked by a ‘phishing’ scam
(fish?ing) (n.) The act of sending an e-mail to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. (Source: www.webopedia.com)
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that law enforcement officers convey the following pieces of advice to help citizens avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:
- If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information via email.
- Don’t email personal or financial information.
- Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges.
- Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date.
- Be cautious about opening any attachments or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them.
- Report suspicious activity to the FTC.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them.
Identity theft -- stats, victims’ battles, and advice
Identity theft is a dual crime involving at least two sets of victims -- the business community and the person whose identity was used to commit the crime. Identity theft counselors deal with people who are angry and tired of fighting a seemingly endless battle on their own. They are frequently considered guilty until they prove their innocence to credit card and bank fraud investigators, collection agencies, and law enforcement.
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), victims now spend an average of 600 hours recovering from this crime, often over a period of years. Three years ago the average was 175-200 hours of time, an increase of more than 300 pecent. Based on 600 hours times the indicated victim wages, this equals nearly $16,000 in lost potential or realized income. Today, the business community loses between $40,000 -- $92,000 per name in fraudulent charges, based on reported fraud losses seen by surveyed victims.
The emotional impact on victims is likened to that felt by victims of more violent crime, including rape, violent assault and repeated battering. Some victims feel dirty, defiled, embarrassed, and undeserving of assistance. Others report a split with a significant other or spouse and of being unsupported by family members. Today, victims spend an average of $1,400 in out-of-pocket expenses, an increase of 185 percent from years past.
The ITRC proffers helpful facts about identity theft victims:
- Identity theft is an emotionally abusive crime, potentially as devastating as a physical attack.
- Victims are scared. They are confused. Their ability to trust anyone has been severely tested.
- Identity theft is a repetitive crime, and victims suffer some of the same emotional damage as victims of physical assault. It feels like it will never end, especially when the victim continues to receive notices by phone or in the mail from creditors.
- Almost all victims report that the financial, emotional and criminal assault on their good name has permanently impacted their lives in a negative way.
- Most of these individuals have never been a victim of a crime like this. They can become overly excited, overbearing, and anxious. They want everything done yesterday.
- According to a study by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and CALPIRG, the average victim spends 175 hours and $808 in out-of-pocket expenses to clear his/her name.
- • Victims typically uncover more evidence in a case than law enforcement, and more rapidly. Many rightfully feel they must become the primary investigator in the case. These victims will likely put more hours into this case than you will.
- The reality is: if the victim doesn’t do anything, no one else will.
- Victims have an emotional need to become their own advocates. They need to continue to be a part of the loop and feel like they are doing something to get this person to stop harassing them.
The ITRC is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1999 and has interacted with thousands of victims, dozens of law enforcement agencies and governmental agencies, state and federal legislators, and business groups concerned with the problem of identity theft. For more information on identity theft victim relations and other related materials, please visit www.idtheftcenter.org
Guidance When Identity Theft Occurs
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), police officers should advise identity theft victims to:
- Contact the fraud departments of any of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts, and all three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge.
- Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
- File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
- • File your complaint with the FTC. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps us learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that we can better assist you.
Helpful links for law enforcement when remedying the effects of identity theft are:
US Secret Service Field Offices, or visit www.einformation.usss.gov, which is a link to a unique collection of resource databases that help financial institutions and law enforcement obtain information on a variety of topics.