Lober Dobson & Desai LLC
Attorneys at Law
Atlanta | Macon
IDENTITY THEFT - THE NEXT GENERATION OF CRIMES
“Not another pre-approved credit card offer! Just toss it.” How often do
we simply throw away a credit card offer, an old paycheck stub or everyday receipts?
How many of our online passwords and PIN numbers have not been changed in the past year?
How many of us use obvious passwords like birthdates or names of our children or spouse
to access online bank and credit card accounts? The list of ways to become an unsuspecting
victim to identity fraud is endless. Now add in the fact that we as Asians share our
first and last names with at least a dozen others in the United States alone. Harish
Patel or Sue Wong are some of the most common names in our communities in this country
and make identity theft easier to commit against us.
We often hear about identities being stolen and fraudulent acts being committed in the
victim's name, but seldom do we as Asians picture ourselves as being the victims. In
recent years, identity theft has affected all types of unsuspecting people, regardless
of class or creed. The internet shopper is not the only type of person affected. The
fear of having your identity stolen is a growing problem in the United States and abroad
as personal information is more easily available and attainable. While there is a very
real fear of another person impersonating you and committing fraudulent acts under the
pretense of being you, the fear of the unknown hurts our community more than anything.
Like most other crimes, knowledge of how to protect yourself and the steps to take if
you feel that your personal information has been compromised are the most powerful tools
we can have.
Identity theft is not an extremely difficult or complex crime, but it can leave the
victim feeling helpless and vulnerable. From something as simple as getting your wallet
or purse stolen to illegal tapping of computers that you use, criminals have several
ways to acquire personal information from unsuspecting persons. What we do not realize,
however, is the extent to which your identity can be abused. Not only can thieves maximize
your credit card limits, but they can also open new accounts in your name. They can even
rent or purchase real estate in your name and leave you with the debt. Most frightening
of all is that they can commit crimes in your name and leave you defending yourself.
In an annual study done by the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel, some of
the most commonly reported forms of identity theft in 2005 include:
- Credit card fraud (26%)
- Phone or utility fraud (18%)
- Bank fraud (17%)
- Employment fraud (12%)
- Government documents/benefits fraud (9%)
An example of fraud that is likely to affect South Asians perhaps more profoundly than
other groups is identification theft with respect to driving records and other government
issued identification. A person victimized by identity theft may not detect a problem
for years. Then, all of a sudden, he has an outstanding warrant in his name in several
states. During a routine traffic stop, an individual may provide a first and last name
and birth date that may closely match another person’s information. The popular
name may not be cross-referenced correctly and the result is an innocent "Harish
Patel" who has never been outside of Florida having a warrant out for him in six
states in New England. The unfortunate reality is that the victim comes to know what
has happened only when he attempts to renew his license years later after the damage
is done. He soon realizes that another "Harish Patel" lives in New York and
has racked up a dozen speeding and driving citations over the years. The "Harish
Patel" of New York has purposefully or inadvertently provided his first and last
name which perhaps unbeknownst to the police officer taking the report, attaches itself
to our innocent "Harish Patel" in Florida.
In this case, the Department of Motor Vehicle Safety checks for the first, middle initial
and last name with the corresponding date of birth. If all four of these fields match,
they assume with good reason, that they have the right person. However, it is very possible
that there is a Harish Bhaskar Patel and a Harish Bhavin Patel both born on the same
date. This issue cannot just jeopardize the DMV report but could lead to as much as deportation
in the event that the identity has been used for INS fraud. This example can be extended
to many other scenarios in which identity fraud can cause problems for unsuspecting individuals.
If you suspect that someone else is using your personal information or identity, there
are several steps to take to help protect yourself from further abuse. The first of many
steps is to contact the fraud department in any of the three major consumer reporting
companies (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion). Simply contact one company as they are obligated
to contact the other two and put them on notice. By reporting possible fraud, you will
be notified any time there is a change in your credit (i.e. any accounts being opened
in your name, etc.).
The next step is to close any of your accounts that you believe have been tampered with.
If your credit report indicates an account that you did not authorize, use documentation
provided by that institution or an ID Theft Affidavit provided by the Federal Trade Commission
to dispute the existence of the account. If you believe your government issued identification
has been stolen, you can contact that agency to put them on notice of another individual
with the same name and obtain new identification.
Furthermore, you should file a report with your local police department and with the
police department in the area you believe the identity theft occurred. When doing this,
always ask for a copy of the report so that you can provide creditors with proof that
you reported a crime. Along with the police report, you can also file a formal complaint
with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The agency maintains a list of theft cases involving
identity theft and helps the FTC collect data to better assist you in your claims.
If the situation has escalated and you feel overwhelmed, contact an attorney to assist
you in the process of getting your credit report and/or record cleared. This may save
you more time, effort and money in the long run.
Be aware of the precautions you need to take to avoid becoming a victim to identity
theft. There are simple proactive steps you can take to significantly reduce your vulnerability.
- Change your passwords and PIN numbers often. Don’t use obvious passwords
like birthdates and names of your spouse, child or pet. Memorize
these passwords and destroy papers that contain them.
- Regularly check your credit card statements and bank accounts for
discrepancies and follow up if you see something incorrect. Also,
make it a habit to order credit reports from one of the three major consumer reporting
companies - all offer one free credit
report every year. So, you can order a report from one agency every
4 months to monitor (many states like GA allow its residents unlimited
access to ordering reports free of charge).
- Never throw
away your credit card receipt containing your full account number
in public. Take it home and shred it if you do not have a reason
to file it.
- Shred documents containing personal information
instead of throwing them in the trash directly (i.e. pre-approved
credit card papers, bank account information, receipts that contain
your full credit card number and anything else with your social security number
- Do not carry your social security card, passport
or extra credit cards with you. Only carry the cards that you actually
need and use.
- Be sure to have a list of your credit cards and their
customer service numbers handy in the event that the card is lost
- anyone unless absolutely necessary. Only give out such
information if you initiated the conversation. Be especially aware
of emails requesting such information. If you receive a questionable
email, call the institution directly and inquire further.
and clarify your full name when opening accounts and on government
issued identification. Your middle name may become increasingly important
as you realize there are many others who share your first and last name.
Keep in mind that identity theft is a growing problem in the United States and abroad.
As we become more and more reliant on electronic data, we forget that real people exist
behind those computer screens and electronic transfers. There are always individuals
who are looking for an opportunity to make an easy dollar on someone else's name. Remember
to guard that which is most precious to you, yourself.