Go ahead, steal my identity: What you need to know about ID theftArticle added by Jim Katzaman on March 2, 2016
James Katzaman

Jim Katzaman

Glen Burnie, MD

Joined: February 10, 2014

My spidey sense tingled when I saw the note on our front door. “Sorry I missed you” stated the message left by the delivery man who arrived hours after his appointed time. He said he would come by the next day to get my check for a package I ordered. That was innocent enough. The attention-grabber was the stamped message encircled by a smiley face: “For easier delivery you can tape your check on the door and I will leave everything here for you.”

Seriously? Even if I had not just attended a session on identity theft, that was a startlingly bad idea. My wife and son, who did not attend that class, agreed with an incredulous “What!?” Besides the disconnect from common sense — practically daring passers-by to swipe my check and tap into my bank account — such a stunt flies in the face of fiduciary responsibilities hammered into life insurance agents from Day 1 of their careers.

I didn’t need the reminder, but fortunately I took notes during my identity-theft class, which now seem appropriate to mention.

Identity theft and fallout from it reverberates almost daily. Millions of families across the country have been affected by theft and cybercrimes in the private and public sectors. Fifty percent of Americans have experienced some kind of identity theft.

ID theft is a federal crime that involves a person or an entity wrongfully obtaining or using another person’s data. The thief wants to steal money or reap another economic benefit. Federal statistics show that identity theft affects all age groups. The highest percentages are those 18-49, but ages 50 on up still comprise more than 20 percent of victims. In 2004, identity thieves stole $47 billion. In more recent years, 12.6 million victims lost $21 billion in 2012. The average cost of fraud per person was $1,589 in 2009. In 2014, 17.6 million Americans — one every two seconds — fell victim to identity theft, each instance needing at least eight weeks to resolve the problem.
“The emotional impact is similar to that of victims of violent crimes,” my instructor said. That was especially painful because “one in four victims knew the perpetrator.” She said thieves get to victims by taking statements or identification cards, stealing mail, dumpster diving, eavesdropping, hacking into secured data, making fake offers, skimming, retrieving information and Internet scams.

My instructor said nothing about taking checks taped to doors — an obvious oversight on her part. Preventing ID theft is a daunting task. My instructor offered an exhaustive list of steps to take. They include shredding or tearing up e-statements; resetting phones and computers to factory settings; reviewing credit card statements; emptying a mailbox quickly or locking it; safeguarding Social Security numbers; shopping online only at reputable, secure websites; getting listed on the Do Not Call registry; choosing uncommon passwords, etc.

When people find they have become victims of ID theft, my instructor said they should contact the Fraud Departments of all major credit bureaus; contact their bank and other financial institutions; file a police report; and contact the Federal Trade Commission ID Theft Line at (877) ID-THEFT or (877) 438-4338. 
All that said — smiley face notwithstanding — I waited patiently the next day and handed my check directly to the delivery man. We both were happy.
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