ST. GEORGE – According to the Federal Trade Commission, nine million Americans will become victims of identity theft this year.
A 42-year-old St. George man was arrested on suspicion of 14 counts of identity fraud on Oct. 17, 2011. Police Captain James Van Fleet of the St. George Police Department said the man was most likely connected to other fraud cases, raising the fraud counts to an estimated 21. (See previous story here)
Identity theft is becoming increasingly common in Southern Utah, Van Fleet said.
While not as common as drug or theft-related arrests, a scan of the bookings featured on the Washington County Sheriff’s Office website tends to produce one or more individuals arrested on suspicion of identity fraud.
And just what could happen if an ID thief were to steal someone’s identity? According to the FTC, there is plenty.
Identity thieves can do much more than just apply for multiple credit cards under a stolen name. They can rent properties, pay utilities, take out a loan, get a job, or even get arrested and give the police the name of a stolen identity. The latter can lead to arrest warrants being issued in the victim’s name.
Thanks to the identity thief, a victim’s credit score and good name can be decimated.
Perhaps one of more frightening aspects of identity theft is that one thief may sell a batch of stolen identities to another.
So what can people do to protect themselves? Two nationally recognized experts in the field of identity theft protection shared their advice on the matter with St. George News.
Anthony Kirlew is the founder of Identity Theft Guard and a veteran online marketing consultant. He provided St. George News readers with a list of steps they could use to protect themselves.
“Maintain up to date antivirus and spyware software. ID Thieves often used programs called keystroke loggers to track what a victim types, which includes URL’s, usernames, and passwords to critical websites such as online banking.
- “Maintain up to date antivirus and spyware software. ID Thieves often used programs called keystroke loggers to track what a victim types, which includes URL’s, usernames, and passwords to critical websites such as online banking.
- “Think twice before you click. With URL shorteners it is hard to determine what is a legitimate link to click on is not. Even if it is sent from a trusted source like someone you know, there is a chance that her or she might have been infected with a virus that sent you a dangerous link. Even worse if you click and do not see anything that seemed to happen, it could mean that you have just activated a virus on your computer that may stay dormant for a while and the do damage.
- “Use strong passwords and change them often. It’s definitely a challenge, but long gone are the days when you can use “password” or your spouse’s name for a safe password.
- “Be cautious where you buy online. If a website does not look professional, don’t risk your identity.
- “Use a specific credit card for online purposes; make sure it is not a debit card.”
Kirlew then gave steps for offline protection:
- Subscribe to an ID theft protection service.
- “Be educated. Know that ID theft is more than just your credit. It could be your medical records, driving records, social security records, or anything else that someone can use to create an identity in your name. It could cost you a job, or worse cause serious problems if your medical records had inaccurate information.
- “Buy a shredder. Shred all credit card offers and information with
your personal identifying info on it.
- “Buy a safe. For documents that you keep, it is best to keep them in a
safe or safe deposit box.
- “Beware of telemarketers. If you are going to do business with them,
offer to call them back. If they are an unknown company, you can likely
buy whatever they are selling from a trusted company.”
- Credit Cards: “Opt to have your picture on the card if possible.
Also, you might consider using a specific card for travel and dining out
that is not a debit card.”
Steven J.J. Weisman is a lawyer and professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. He is also the author of “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity and You Credit” and “The Truth about Avoiding Scams.”
In an email to St. George News, Weisman wrote:
“The first thing to do is to protect your Social Security number. This is a key to identity theft. It can be used to access your credit report and to use your credit to your detriment. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse and try to limit the places that have this information.
“Another important thing to do is to have a credit freeze put on your credit report. This prevents access to your credit report without the use of a PIN that you create. Thus if your identity is compromised such that someone gets your Social Security number and other personal information about you and tries to use your credit report in making a big purchase, they will be prevented from doing so.”
Weisman noted that no matter how hard a person tried to protect his or her information, there will always be a measure of risk involved. This is primarily due to the fact that some of the places that carry an individual’s personal information may not be protecting that data as much as they should.
Captain Van Fleet also weighed in on the issue by recommending that people be vigilant when it comes to their credit scores. If something on the credit report didn’t look right, there was a fair chance it wasn’t.
“If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck,” Van Fleet said.
He added people should call their banks or credit unions to cancel current credit or debit cards if they discover such cards, or even a wallet or purse, is missing. Doing so would help stop any potential problems in the future.
Van Fleet also echoed Kirlew’s council about joining an ID protection agency.
– Federal Trade Commission ID Theft Prevention Information
Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent