ID theft

ENID, Okla. — A recent study by WalletHub found Oklahoma was 34th in the nation and District of Columbia in reports of identity theft per capita.

The report also found the Sooner State ranked 42nd in fraud and other complaints per capita across the nation. Oklahoma also ranked 41st in average amount lost due to identity theft. The highest ranking in any category found by the report put Oklahoma at 28th in the nation for persons arrested for fraud per capita.

To determine where Americans are most susceptible to such crimes, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 15 key metrics. The data set ranges from identity-theft complaints per capita to average loss amount due to fraud.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s most recent Data Breach Report, between Jan. 1, 2005, and Aug. 31, 2019, there have been 10,818 breaches accounting for more than 1.6 billion records compromised.

Georgia, Nevada, California, Florida, Texas and the District of Columbia tied for first in most identity theft complaints per capita. Vermont had the fewest identity theft complaints per capita, followed by Iowa. South Dakota and Maine tied for 48th in fewest complaints, followed by Kentucky.

Minnesota, Illinois, Con­necticut, South Dakota, Rhode Island and California tied for the highest average losses due to online identity theft. North Dakota, Kentucky, Wyoming, Delaware and New Mexico were the five states with the lowest average loss amount due to online identity theft.

Despite increased protections and consumer knowledge of attempts to scam or steal information, the FBI reports identity theft continues to be a problem.

“But the threat is more pervasive and the scams more sophisticated than ever, including online elements,” according to the agency. “The FBI uses both its criminal and cyber resources — along with its intelligence capabilities — to identify and stop crime groups in their early stages and to root out the many types of perpetrators, which span the Bureau’s investigative priorities.”

The FBI also taps into its investigative partnerships with federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as information-sharing partnerships with every sector of business, government and education.

To specifically address the growing problem of identity theft, Congress passed two laws:

The 1998 Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, which amended Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1028 to make it a federal crime to “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”

The 2004 Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, which established penalties for “aggravated” identity theft, which is using the identity of another person to commit felony crimes, including immigration violations, theft of another’s Social Security benefits, and acts of domestic terrorism. The act required the court to sentence two additional years for a general offense and five years for a terrorism offense.

Along with names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, fraudsters also use Medicare numbers, addresses, birth certificates, death certificates, passport numbers, financial account numbers (i.e., bank account, credit card), passwords (e.g., mother’s maiden name, father’s middle name), telephone numbers, and biometric data (e.g., fingerprints, iris scans) to commit identity theft.

According to the Federal Trade Com­mission, identity theft complaints nearly doubled between 2010 and 2015. However, the number of identity theft victims and total losses are likely much higher than publicly-reported statistics. It is difficult to provide a precise assessment because different law enforcement agencies may classify identity theft crimes differently, and because identity theft can also involve credit card fraud, Internet fraud or mail theft, among other crimes.

Some of the more prevalent schemes criminals are using these days to steal identities include suspicious email and/or phishing attempts to trick victims into revealing personally identifiable information; “smash and grab” burglaries involving the theft of hard copy driver’s licenses, credit cards, check books, etc.; and computer and network intrusions that result in the loss of personally identifiable information.

The FBI is working to address an emerging identity fraud threat — stolen identity refund fraud. This scheme involves perpetrators acquiring victims’ dates of birth and Social Security numbers, and then filing fraudulent tax returns using this information, directing the refunds to prepaid debit cards or bank accounts under their control. Victims often don’t realize that they have been targeted until they try to file their legitimate tax returns or receive a tax audit notice in the mail.

Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.

According to the Department of Justice, the most common ways identity theft or fraud can happen to you include:

• In public places, for example, criminals may engage in “shoulder surfing” — watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or credit card number — or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit-card number over the telephone.

• If you receive applications for “pre-approved” credit cards in the mail, but discard them without tearing up the enclosed materials, criminals may retrieve them and try to activate the cards for their use without your knowledge.

• If your mail is delivered to a place where others have ready access to it, criminals may simply intercept and redirect your mail to another location.

• Many people respond to “spam” — unsolicited email — that promises them some benefit but requests identifying data, without realizing that in many cases, the requester has no intention of keeping his promise. In some cases, criminals have used computer technology to steal large amounts of personal data.

With enough identifying information about an individual, a criminal can take over that individual’s identity to conduct a wide range of crimes. Those crimes include: making false applications for loans and credit cards; making fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts; making fraudulent use of telephone calling cards or online accounts; or obtaining other goods or privileges which the criminal might be denied if he were to use his real name

Those who have fallen prey to an identity theft or scam should:

• Identity thieves are opportunistic. They tend to exploit simple vulnerabilities in individuals’ personal information security practices, and each critical piece of information or account they garner access to can help them steal more. Signs of fraud can also take weeks or months to reveal themselves.

• Confirm the removal of inaccuracies from your credit reports: The first thing you’ll want to do before focusing on protecting your personal information from future incursions is double-check that all fraudulent and inaccurate listings have been removed from your credit reports. There’s too much at stake not to be sure.You already have your TransUnion credit report from WalletHub, and can order your Experian and Equifax credit reports through the government-sponsored website AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to a free copy of each of your major credit reports through this site every 12 months.

• Change account PINs and passwords: Security experts typically recommend changing passwords every few months — using an 8-to-10-character mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols for maximum security — but it’s especially important following a case of identity theft.

• Review mail and credit card statements carefully: Making sure that you actually receive all of your expected monthly account communications from lenders is a good way to confirm that none of your accounts has been hijacked. Thoroughly reviewing these documents for transactions or references to account changes that you do not recognize is similarly beneficial. Furthermore, taking a bit of extra time to scrutinize the mail you receive every day will reduce the likelihood that you’ll discard a letter from a lender, the IRS, the Social Security Administration or any other organization that may be trying to notify you about a past-due balance or change in account preferences that could signal fraud.

• Sign up for three-bureau credit monitoring: Enrolling in a service that monitors all three of your major credit reports will give you peace of mind knowing that you will be immediately alerted to any important changes on your files. Given that creditors typically perform an inquiry with only one bureau when evaluating an application, guarding only one of these doors to your credit history would mean having to get somewhat lucky to catch a thief. Three-bureau credit monitoring doesn’t have to be permanent, nor does it have to be expensive, but it can be very useful in the months after evidence of potential identity theft arises. For help choosing a provider, check out our detailed breakdown of the most popular credit-monitoring services.

• Enroll in electronic account access: One trend that identity-theft experts see emerging is the practice of fraudsters using certain key pieces of information about a person — such as their name, address, date of birth or Social Security number — to take control of online access to a credit card or government benefits account and, in turn, change the address or bank account associated with it in order to steal money and perpetrate more fraud. It’s easiest for a fraudster to pull off this type of scam when you, the real accountholder, have not yet registered your account for online access or established account preferences regarding electronic communications. This is especially prevalent when the victim doesn’t even realize online account access is available, as is the case with many elderly people and the Social Security Administration’s “my Social Security” web-management tools, for example.

• Extend Fraud alerts: Standard fraud alerts only remain in place for 90 days. But if you provide each credit bureau with proof that you are a victim of identity theft (e.g., your FTC affidavit and police report), they can add Extended Fraud Alerts to your files that will remain for seven years. This will serve as a lasting reminder for anyone who views your credit report, especially potential creditors, to watch out for signs of identity theft.

Taking these steps should help make you a much harder target for identity thieves, but it’s important to remain vigilant nonetheless. If your case of identity theft has not been resolved to your satisfaction, you may want to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as hire an attorney who specializes in identity theft.

To view the full WalletHub report on on 2019’s States Most Vulnerable to Identity Theft & Fraud visit: https://wallethub.com/edu/states-where-identity-theft-and-fraud-are-worst/17549/.

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Rains is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @cassrains.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Cass? Send an email to crains@enidnews.com.

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