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Combating Identity Theft

April 21, 2015

Identity theft has become a hot topic recently, and for good reason. Since 2010, the number of complaints reported annually has more than doubled, reaching the total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2014 of $26,350,000,000 (Institute, 2015).
 
Being aware of the threat is crucial to remaining unaffected. In a study completed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) on March 20, 2015, a total of 2,416,773 taxpayers were identified as victims of identity theft in 2013 alone (Administration, 2015). In an effort to keep you from joining that unfortunate statistic, LGT we would like to help raise awareness of this criminal act by sharing the signs of being a victim, first steps in response to identity theft and how to begin repairing your identity.
 
Signs You’re A Victim
If you have experienced any of the following, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that you could be a victim of identity theft (FTC, Signs of Identity Theft, 2012):
• You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
• You don’t get your bills or other mail.
• Merchants refuse your checks.
• Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
• You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
• Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
• Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
• A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
• The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
• You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
 
Prevention
Are you wondering how to avoid becoming a target of identity theft? Remain on the safe side by using the recommend acronym, SHRED, from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).

S – Strengthen Passwords: Use at least 8 characters, alpha numeric, symbols and upper/lower case.
H – Handle Personal Identifying Information (PII) with care. Do not give out PII unless absolutely necessary.
R – Read credit reports annually.
E – Empty your purse/wallet often. Don’t carry any more than necessary and never your Social Security card.
D – Discuss these tips and share your knowledge with friends.

 
First Steps
However, if you have experienced signs of identity theft, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the FTC suggest you take these steps as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
• Inform the government by filing a identify theft affidavit, Form 14039 (IRS, Identity Theft Affidavit, 2014), with the FTC or call the FTC’s toll-free hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
• With an identity theft affidavit, you can file a police report. Together, these complete your identity theft report (FTC, 2012).
• Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit records:
1) Equifax, http://www.Equifax.com, 1-800-525-6285
2) Experian, http://www.Experian.com, 1-888-397-3742
3) TransUnion, http://www.TransUnion.com, 1-800-680-7289
• Once you have placed a fraud alert, ask your selected credit reporting agency for a free credit report.
• Contact your financial institutions and close any accounts opened without your permission or appear tampered with.
• Check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually. You can create an account online at http://www.ssa.gov.
 
Recovery
The TIGTA study also found that the average resolution of an identity theft tax account is 278 days (Administration, 2015). Although the process is long, it must begin somewhere. The FTC suggests you start by taking these steps (FTC, Immediate Steps to Repair Identity Theft, 2012):
• Dispute any errors found on your credit report with your selected credit reporting agency. Errors could include: wrong social security number, name, employers and/or address.
• Obtain copies of all documents used by the thief, as well as a record of any fraudulent transactions. Contact all businesses involved to make corrections using this sample letter provided by the FTC (FTC, Get Copies of the Documents the Identity Thief Used, 2012).
• Keep a copy of all notifications and a record of the dates you contacted each business, bureau and agency.
 
For more information on combating identity theft, visit the IRS Identity Protection page at http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection. If you previously contacted the IRS and did not have a resolution, contact the Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
 
“The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. Report suspicious online or emailed phishing scams to:phishing@irs.gov. For phishing scams by phone, fax or mail, call: 1-800-366-4484. Report IRS impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s IRS Impersonation Scams Reporting (IRS, 2015).”

References
Administration, T. I. (2015, March 20). Victims of Identity Theft Continue to Experience Delays and Errors in Receiving Refunds. Retrieved from http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2015reports/201540024fr.pdf
ITRC. Identity Theft Prevention Tips. Retrieved from http://www.idtheftcenter.org/Protect-yourself/id-theft-prevention-tips.html
FTC. (2012, August). Create an Identity Theft Report. Retrieved from http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0277-create-identity-theft-report
FTC. (2012, August). Get Copies of the Documents the Identity Thief Used. Retrieved from http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0288-get-copies-documents-identity-thief-used
FTC. (2012, August). Immediate Steps to Repair Identity Theft. Retrieved from http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0274-immediate-steps-repair-identity-theft
FTC. (2012, July). Signs of Identity Theft. Retrieved from http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0271-signs-identity-theft#Clues
Institute, S. B. (2015, April 8). Identity Theft/Fraud Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/identity-theft-fraud-statistics/
IRS. (2014, February ). Identity Theft Affidavit. Retrieved from http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039.pdf
IRS. (2015, April 20). Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft. Retrieved from http://www.irs.gov/uac/Taxpayer-Guide-to-Identity-Theft
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