Fighting Identity Theft is an Ordeal
July 20, 2011 (Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News) A woman in Idaho has spent four years trying to stop criminals who annually get a homebuyers tax credit using her daughter's Social Security number.
The abuses began when her daughter was 9 years old, said Jo Ann Lanham, consumer affairs officer with the Idaho Department of Finance. "The IRS won't tell her who it is because it's a violation of the privacy of the perpetrator."
Aside from filing a police report, one of the few remedies Idahoans have against identity theft is to freeze their credit reports, said Lanham, who spoke Tuesday at a Lewiston City Library event.
The freeze can prevent thieves from getting additional credit in the name of the victim, Lanham said.
But even that solution isn't perfect because the victims have to lift the freeze if they're seeking loans, Lanham said. "Identity theft is growing by leaps and bounds. It is the No. 1 complaint with the Federal Trade Commission because they don't have to pull a gun on you."
Personal information falls into the wrong hands in a number of ways, she said.
It's retrieved from Dumpsters. It's copied from credit cards at restaurants with tiny devices that can be hidden inside the cuff of a coat. It's provided by consumers who respond to emails or texts disguised as inquiries from official parties like banks.
What thieves do with it varies, Lanham said.
They might combine the name of one person, the address of another and the social security number of a third into a new identity that can go undetected for longer than if everything came from one person.
Lanham's office is presently sorting through what may be a pattern of exceedingly aggressive collection calls where people are told if they don't make a payment immediately on a payday loan, police will come to their door and arrest them.
Many of the calls seem to be going to people who have at one time taken out payday loans online, or to their employers, or family members, Lanham said.
It's not clear if the payments would actually go to any outstanding debt, Lanham said.
Consumers can protect themselves, Lanham said.
One of the best things to do is to check your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com to lookfor credit card accounts or collections that aren't yours, Lanham said. Each of the three agencies that provides credit reports has to provide one report free to a consumer once a year.
Other good steps include limiting what you carry in your wallet and examining credit card statements, Lanham said.
Williams may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2261.