What is Identity Theft?
Missouri State Statute defines Identity Theft as when a person with the intent to deceive or defraud, obtains, possesses, transfers, uses, or attempts to obtain, transfer or use, one or more “means of identification” not lawfully issued for his or her use. Means of Identification is defined as, “Anything used by a person to uniquely distinguish himself or herself.” The average cost to an Identity Theft victim is $35,000.There are several main types of identity theft including general identity theft, tax-related identity theft, money transfer scams, and hacked email accounts. Below, you can learn about each type of identity theft, how to protect yourself from these thefts, and what to do if you are ever the victim of identity theft.
If you are a victim to a scam, don’t be embarrassed. These clever crooks know what they’re doing. But if you arm yourself with these prevention tactics and information, you will make it much harder for these scammers to be successful.
Identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number or other personal information to open new accounts, make purchases or get a tax refund. Most people who experience identity theft must take several steps to recover.
General Identify Theft
Common means of identification that are stolen include but are not limited to:
- Social Security Numbers
- Drivers License Numbers
- Checking & Savings Account Numbers
- Credit & Debit Card Numbers
- Personal Identification (PIN) code
- Finger Prints
- Birth certificates
- Digital Signatures
- Biometric Data
Checking for Identity Theft
You may become aware that you are a victim of identity theft if:
- You get a strange notice from the IRS
- You find unfamiliar accounts on your credit report
- You notice strange withdrawals from your bank account
- You get bills that aren’t yours; and
- You get phone calls about debts that you don’t owe.
Reporting & Recovery
The federal government has a one-stop resource to help you report and recover from this scam. Visit www.IdentityTheft.gov
To place a fraud alert on your social security number, contact one of the three credit bureaus:
- http://www.experian.com 1-888-397-3742
- https://www.equifax.com 1-800-766-0008
- https://www.transunion.com 1-800-680-7289
- Shred all documents that contain any personal information (including credit card applications)
- You should also review your three credit reports at least once a year. You can get free copies at www.annualcreditreport.com
- Never give personal information to a stranger in person, over the phone, by computer, or in writing
- Frequently check financial statements and credit card accounts for unauthorized transactions
Tax Related Identity TheftAn unexpected message from the IRS could be a tip off that an identity thief is misusing your Social Security number. Contact the IRS if you receive a notice that more than one tax return was filed using your Social Security number or IRS records show you were paid by an employer you don’t know.
Reporting the Theft
If you think you have tax issues related to identity theft, let the IRS know ASAP, even if you don’t have any evidence that it’s affected your tax return. Visit the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit website at www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection
Or call 1-800-908-4490 from 7AM to 7PM (CST). Specialists will work with you to get your tax return filed, get any refund you are due and protect your IRS account from identity thieves in the future.
In the case of tax related identity theft, the IRS will require that you complete IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit . Tax related identity theft is investigated by the IRS. There is no need to file a Police Report when ONLY tax-related identity theft is discovered. IRS form 14039 is sufficient when this is the case. Additional taxpayer identity theft resources can be found at https://www.irs.gov/uac/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft .
Remember, the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text or social media to request personal or financial information. If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Money Transfer Scams
Wiring money is like sending cash. Companies like MoneyGram or Western Union can be useful when you need to send money quickly to someone you know and trust. But, once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. That’s one reason crooks often insist that people wire money….especially overseas.
Reporting ScamsReport money transfer scams to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint
Don’t wire money to a stranger or someone you haven’t met in person. This includes:
- Anyone who insists on wire transfers for payment
- An online love interest who asks for money
- Someone advertising an apartment or vacation rental online
- A potential employer or someone who is hiring you to be a mystery shopper
- Someone who claims to be a relative or friend in need. Typically, they say they’re in a foreign hospital or jail, and they beg you not to tell the rest of the family.
In a variation, scammers ask you to deposit a check for them and then wire money back to them. The scam is that the check is fake. It will bounce and you’ll owe your bank the money you withdrew. By law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within a few days, but it can take weeks to uncover a fake check. It may seem that the check has cleared and the money is in your account. But if a check later turns out to be fake, you’ll owe the bank any funds you withdrew.
Hacked Email AccountsYou get a flood of messages from friends and family. They’re getting emails from you with seemingly random links, or messages with urgent pleas to wire you money. It appears as if your email or social media account might have been taken over. What do you do? For starters, make sure your security precautions are up-to-date, reset your passwords and warn your friends.
Responding to a Hack
If you’ve been hacked:
- Update your system and delete any malware (spyware). If you don’t have any security software, install a program from a reputable, well-know company. Then run a scan on your computer for viruses and malware. Set your security software, internet browser and operating system to update automatically.
- Change the passwords to online accounts including email, bank and credit card sites.
- Check the advice your email provider or social networking site has about restoring your account
- Check your account settings
- Tell your friends. A quick email letting your friends know they might have gotten a malicious link or fake plea for money may keep them from sending money they won’t get back or installing malware on their computers.
Hack Prevention Tips
- Use unique passwords for important sites, like your bank and email.
- Never use personal information for passwords. Passwords are more secure when they contain a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols
- Safeguard your usernames and passwords
- Turn on two-factor authentication if your service provider offers it
- NEVER click on links or open attachments in emails unless you know who sent them and what they are
- Download free software only from sites you know and trust
- Don’t treat public computers like your personal computer