By Kathi Bliss
Attention and vigilance are the two key factors in fighting identity theft, a crime that is growing in Caldwell County.
According to an informational release prepared by Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel C. Law this week, complaints of identity theft have been increasing recently in Caldwell County, and residents are encouraged to take steps to protect themselves from this potentially far-reaching and damaging crime.
Defined loosely, identity theft occurs when personal information including name, date of birth, Social Security numbers, banking and credit card information is used by an individual without the permission of the owner of that information. It can be as simple as use of an existing credit or debit card number, or as complex as a perpetrator setting up accounts in someone else’s name without their consent.
Identity theft can be costly and potentially ruinous for victims, who often do not know they have been victims of the fraud until after their money or their “good name” has been stolen.
“You can lower your risk by checking your banking and credit card statements monthly and reporting any suspicious activity right away,” Law said. “Give credit card or other information only to trusted companies you contact directly. Never give personal information to anyone over the telephone unless you called them. Check your credit reports, financial, and insurance statements regularly.”
Identity thieves do not stop with only initiating telephone or Internet contact to scout for potential victims. Some will go so far as to dig through trash seeking banking and credit card records and other identifying information. Law advised shredding all mail that includes identifying information prior to throwing it away. He also advised ignoring email solicitations asking for money or offering “get rich quick” opportunities.
“If you area victim of identity theft, the first thing to do is contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus,” he said. “Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert including a statement that creditors should get your permission before setting up any new accounts in your name.”
He also suggested periodically reviewing the reports from those three bureaus to ensure that no new, unknown accounts have been opened, or any unauthorized changes made to existing accounts.
If fraudulent accounts are located, he said, identity theft victims should immediately contact the creditors holding the accounts. After making the initial call to the fraud departments of those creditors, a follow-up in writing is required by the Fair Credit Billing Act for resolving errors in credit account billing.
Finally, he said, reports should be filed with the local law enforcement agency in the community or county where the theft occurred – whether or not the victim knows who committed the theft, or the exact time or date it occurred. Often, victims of identity theft fail to report the crime to the proper authorities.
“Taking [these] steps should, in most cases, resolve your identity theft problems,” Law said. “But identity theft or related problems can reoccur. Stay alert to new instances…”
To report possible identity theft, contact the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department at (512) 398-6777 or your local police department.