Identity theft is a crime that can affect anyone, but it can be avoided with proper diligence.
A May report from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reveals identity theft cost Americans more than $66 million last year.
To help, the federal government created a website, identitytheft.gov, packed with information on the crime and tools to get your identity back.
The site lists clues that a person’s identity has been stolen. It includes: withdrawals from your bank account you don’t recognize; you stop receiving your mail or bills; debt collectors call about debts you don’t have; and unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
Other clues are bills from medical care providers for services you didn’t have; health plan issues stemming from ailments you don’t suffer or your benefits limit has been reached; the IRS informs you more than one tax return was filed in your name or income from a company you don’t work for; and if you get a notice your information was stolen in a corporate data breach.
Lorain police Detective Chris Colon shared some tips for people to keep themselves safe from having their identity stolen.
Many people don’t realize their identity has been stolen until they are contacted by their bank, Colon said.
“Nowadays, banks are getting better as far as seeing a pattern in a person’s account,” he said, adding that when banks notice a significant change in that pattern, they’ll reach out to the account holder.
Colon’s first tip is to keep track of credit cards and identification.
“Obviously, this is a time of year people are out and shopping,” he said. “Be very aware of who you give your information to. That kind of stuff is what we always stress.”
There are scammers who call and threaten citizens with alleged debts and then claim to offer settlements, Colon said.
“A lot of times they’re targeting the elderly, you know, people who aren’t computer savvy as well,” he said. “So, they get nervous and scared because they’re not sure if they owe a debt and are in collections with somebody.”
The Police Department warns people to be aware of such scams and to be on the lookout for it, Colon said.
“If it’s a legit debt that somebody owes at a bank, obviously, there’s going to be certified letters that are sent, there’s going to be certified notifications that are sent and somebody’s not just going to have a phone call and expect a debt to be paid without some kind of verification,” he said.
If a caller claims to collect a debt on behalf of a bank, it’s best to call the bank and verify before giving money or information to the “debt collector,” Colon said.
Colon warned that oftentimes with this scam, the money will be routed to a fake account, hindering recovery.
“By the time the bank gets ahold of it, they realize it’s a fake account, but the money is already being transferred from one account to another account,” he said.
Colon said consumers should be wary when shopping online as well.
“Be aware of who you give your information to,” he said. “Don’t just give your information out to anyone.”
If you believe your identity has been stolen, Colon recommends telling your bank or credit card company that any suspicious charges are fraudulent.
“Next thing is, obviously, if it’s a credit card, make sure your credit card is in your possession,” he said. “If it’s not, that could be a reason why something got compromised.”
Colon said you should put freezes on your accounts to stop any further charges, and then contact the police.
“They want to file a report,” he said. “A lot of times, what a victim can do is, and we help them, if their credit card has been used, find where it’s been used at.
“If it’s at, for example, a Walmart or any type of retail store, we’ll try to get the information of when, where, what time these transactions took place.”
Many stores have surveillance cameras which can possibly identify who was using the credit card and pursuing charges against them, Colon said.