Advances in technology are driving our society towards a new predominantly electronic world. With advances in nearly every field, and the realization of technologies that only a decade ago seemed to be science fiction, there are a great deal of beneficial developments. But with these advances towards an electronic world, there comes the dangerous risk of overexposing sensitive information by relying too heavily on technology. Storing passwords, bank account information, social security numbers and other sensitive information on computers, cell phones, or tablets puts them at risk to criminals across the world. Due to the expansive worldwide realm that is the internet, and the fast progression of technology, governments and legal entities have been unable to adequately adapt their traditional methods to the internet, and are often too slow in implementing new methods. This lack of strong protection leads to a reduced fear of prosecution amongst criminals who do not just stop after taking one piece of sensitive information, but use that one piece of information to gain access to your identity as a whole. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Identity Theft Reported by Household, 2005-2010 Report, in 2010 7% of households in the U.S. had at least one victim of identity theft, a 27% increase since 2005. The damage that a criminal can cause by stealing your identity can cause a lifetime of problems and require a great deal of time and money expenditures to keep under control.
How identity theft can harm you
Identity thieves can obtain credit in your name, run up substantial charges, and destroy your credit score. This makes future purchases on credit almost impossible. Insurance companies can deny you coverage or can charge you higher rates based on your credit score. Creditors may harass you because they believe you owe debts that you do not know. Under federal law, you may be entitled to receive money damages because creditors and/or credit reporting agencies refuse to remove inaccurate information from your credit report based upon identity theft. You are also allowed to place a fraud alert on your account which will notify potential creditors not to extend credit without verifying your identity.
Here are some of the more common types of electronic identity theft:
- Smishing: When you receive a text on your cell phone that instructs you to visit a fraudulent website, you may be a smishing victim.
- Vishing: When you receive an email from a bank or an online business such as PayPal or eBay, which instructs you to click on a link to verify your account, identity theft called Phishing may be occurring. Likewise, if you receive a voicemail that requests you call your bank or credit card company, and you key in your pin or other personal information, you could be a victim of vishing.
- Pharming: When you access a website that has been taken accessed by hackers, and it instructs you to provide confidential information, you may be a victim of spoofing or pharming.
- Spyware: Malicious software which often appears on your computer from opening attachments, pop-ups, or downloading items. Spyware allows criminals to obtain information such as your bank card numbers.
- Bank-card skimming: Identity theft thieves use fake ATM slot and cameras to record your account information and PIN at ATMs. Additionally, there are portable card readers that can be placed next to card-reading machines that steal your information. This is called bank-card skimming.
Signs of Identity Theft
Typically, you learn that you’re a victim of identity theft when you receive a bill in the mail or a collector is calls regarding a debt you are unfamiliar with. We encourage consumers to check their credit reports regularly, and to shred all statements with their address to help prevent unauthorized activities. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act entitles you to a free copy of your credit report each year. The form you will need to use is located here: www.annualcreditreport.com. You can also write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 for a free annual report.
What should you do?
If you feel you are the victim of identity theft, you should file a police report where you reside, plus in any area where you believe the fraudulent activity took place. Then, get a copy of each report. Additionally, file an F.T.C. fraud affidavits with the credit reporting agencies. The F.T.C. fraud affidavit is available at www.ftc.gov. If the unfamiliar creditor requires that you fill out an affidavit, or other form, then you should carefully read this paperwork for accuracy before signing and returning the copy. Keep copies for you records. Additionally, send the unknown creditors a certified letter with a return receipt requested disputing that the debt is accurate. Make sure to let the company know that this is a case of identity theft, while enclosing copies of the police forms, F.T.C. form, and any affidavits. Request a statement from the creditor that you will not be held responsible for the debt. Keep copies of the letters you sent. The F.T.C. Fraud Affidavit should act as a dispute under the Fair Credit Reporting Act as soon as it is provided to the following credit reporting agencies:
Equifax Experian Trans Union LLC
PO Box 9701 PO Box 740241 PO Box 1000
Allen, TX 75013 Atlanta, GA 30374 Chester, PA 19022
If you believe you are the victim of identity theft call Camden & Meridew, P.C. to schedule a free consultation.
Corey Meridew is a Partner at Camden & Meridew, P.C. who practices in the areas of appellate law, business litigation, consumer protection and utility law.
This website supplies general information about the law but it is provided for informational purposes only. This content does not create an attorney-client relationship and more importantly is not meant to constitute legal advice. You should not act on any of the information contained herein without first consulting an attorney.