Identity theft remains the fastest growing crime in America. On average, an identity is stolen every three seconds, or 35,000 per day. In 2016, over 15.4 million Americans were victims, according to FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jay Bernardo of Miami.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that Florida leads the nation in identity theft complaints with 193 per 100,000 residents and South Florida’s rate is an even higher 340 per 100,000. Over a third (34 percent) of all identity theft fraud is related to government benefits/document fraud.
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The best defense against identity theft is to limit access or dissemination of your personally identifiable information, which can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity, such as name, date of birth and Social Security number.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, swift action is crucial and may prevent further damage to your credit history. On average, once your identity is stolen, it will be used approximately 30 times.
To reduce the chance of becoming a victim of identity theft, do the following:
▪ Only give your Social Security number to those who absolutely require it.
▪ Do not carry your Social Security card with you. (Unfortunately, your Medicare number is also your Social Security number.)
▪ Shred any documents containing your personally identifiable information.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft:
▪ Immediately file a free initial fraud alert with the three major credit reporting companies: Experian: 1-888-397-3742; Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; Trans-Union: 1-800-680-7289. This alert gives you access to a free credit report and makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. This alert lasts 90 days, so you may need to renew the alert based on your circumstances.
▪ Consider requesting a credit freeze. This usually costs approximately $10, but helps prevent creditors from gaining access to your credit report. Without a credit report, most banks and credit card companies will not issue new accounts or cards. If you are purchasing a new home or vehicle, you will need to request the freeze be lifted in order to complete your transaction.
▪ Notify the fraud department for all of your bank and credit card companies of the possible theft and request new account and card numbers.
▪ File a report with the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint. Provide a copy of the completed report to your local police department. Under Florida law, you may file a police report where the theft occurred or within the city, county or state in which you reside. The police report together with the FTC report will assist you in the event fraudulent accounts or debts are created.
Finally, if you file your federal income taxes online and do not receive notification your filing was accepted, you may be a victim of income tax fraud. Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 or www.irs.gov/indentitytheft to report your issue and request an IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039.
Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to email@example.com, or call her at 305-470-1670.