Written by attorney Andrew Daniel Myers

Identity Theft: How Often Does it Really Happen?

They used to shoot horse thieves in the old west. Carjackers usually get at least some time. However, identity theft seems rampant in our new Century and rarely do we hear about harsh treatment. Sometimes it happens through no fault of our own. They say deal only with reputable companies, ones you know and trust. Fine. There was a highly reputable restaurant not far from one of my offices that had a fluke bad employee who 'double swiped' credit cards and then used the info. Honest consumers like you and I have no idea of the depth of evil facing us. Investigators now believe that hackers pointed a telescopic antenna towards a Marshall's store in Minnesota, and used a lap-top computer to "decode data streaming through the air between hand-held price-checking devices, cash registers and the store's computers." The Wall Street Journal, on May 4, 2007, reported that the data collected helped the hackers tap into the TJX computers in Framingham, MA to download customer credit info. I know a guy with a very common name. The credit card companies, who after all are in the information business, should have been more careful before allowing a knucklehead with the same name, who screwed up his own credit, to use this guy's ID. Sometimes it's our own carelessness. One day a waitress from the restaurant next door to my office walked in and said "Look what I found!" She had a credit card receipt with my name and credit card number. It had blown out of the dumpster into the parking lot that our businesses shared. A paper shredder was purchased soon after. Other things people do, in retrospect, have simple solutions. I can't believe how many people leave their lockers unlocked in the gym. If you follow the news, items are pilfered even in nice places. I can't believe how many people leave their cars unlocked, their homes unlocked and their purses unattended. Computer people won't like this. But, I can't believe how many people leave computers on "24/7" with sensitive personal information stored there. Why give hackers an opportunity? Encryption and firewalls block honest people. Check your credit report regularly. If anything doesn't look right, challenge it immediately. The burden then shifts to the credit reporting agency to verify the information. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every year. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) requires the credit bureaus to provide consumers, upon request, with one free copy of their credit report each year. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the big three, are easily found online. If you transact business online, be careful. Read bank statements and credit card itemizations each month. Credit card companies offer protections if you report problems right away. Ignore e-mails requesting verification of account information. These are largely scams, "phishing" for account numbers and other personal information. They may even look like they're from your bank. Never respond. If you think it's valid, ask your bank's customer service people before even thinking of responding. Never 'verify' anything from an unsolicited e-mail. You could protect yourself by cutting up your credit cards and paying for everything with cash. I horrified a family member in his 20's by saying that. I'm not that old. When I was 20, they'd stopped printing Confederate money. But, ATM machines weren't around yet, either. Every Friday, knowing the banks would shut down for the weekend, I thought what I needed that weekend; some groceries, a date, gas money and entertainment. It wasn't an exact science. But, you had to figure. People did figure. It's not a bad idea. Back to reality. I've helped people help themselves out of ID theft. More often than not the credit companies and banks will shut down the offender, remove the charges that aren't yours, and restore your credit. However, the way the system works, it takes a great deal of time. It requires much communication by the victim to the financial institutions including correspondence, forms and telephone time. Perseverance pays off. But, cleaning up your credit after an ID theft can seem like rolling a rock up hill.

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