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ID theft

All about how it happens and how you can keep it from happening to you.

February 2010 - Posts

  • Medical Identity Theft

    Medical identity theft becoming an increasing problem

    Medical identity theft is becoming an ever-increasing issue, and with credit card theft, once an identity thief gets hold of enough information they can easily assume another identity and obtain medical services under the name of another person.

    The number of medical identity theft cases has grown rapidly. As many as 500,000 Americans have been victims of medical identify theft, according to the World Privacy Forum. The World Privacy Form compiled statistics on medical identity theft for the period 1992 through 2006. According to the 2006 report, the Federal Trade Commission received almost 19,500 reports of medical ID theft between January 1992 to April 2006. About one every four reports were received in 2006. A second report on medical identity theft is currently being finalized, which is likely to be published in early 2010.

    According to Government Technology Newsletter (www.govtech.com), medical identity theft is  comparatively lucrative as compared to other forms of identity theft. A stolen Social Security number has an estimated street value of $1 per identity; stolen medical identity information averaged $50 per identity in 2008. At one medical clinic in Weston, Florida, a front desk clerk downloaded information of more than 1,100 Medicare patients and gave it to a cousin who made $2.8 million in false Medicare claims.

    Medical ID theft is not something people consider and don't safeguard against. In fact, you can be victimized and have no idea for years, unless false information in your records comes to light when you seek medical care. Once you have become a victim of medical identity theft, you may find that the thieves charged large hospital bills in your name and then disappeared. This can wreak havoc on your credit report, and can take years to straighten out. In the meantime, you may have to deal with collections agencies and could even lose out on a car loan, mortgage or even an employment opportunity.

    Fraudulent medical claims can even max out your health insurance coverage and leave you with no health insurance in an emergency. There can be darker consequences. If your records contain wrong information such as blood type or information about medications that you are (or are not) allergic to, your life or long-term health could be put into jeopardy if you are given the wrong medication or blood type in an emergency.

    In addition to the possibility of receiving incorrect treatment due to medical identity theft, there are a number of other possible consequences. These include

    • False medical and pharmaceutical bills
    • False health insurance claims
    • Denial of health insurance claims
    • Denial of health insurance coverage
    • Denial of life insurance claims
    • Denial of life insurance coverage
    • Denial of employment based on false medical history
    • Time and expense correcting false patient records
    • Time and expense correcting false insurance records

    There are some concrete steps that you can take to find out about possible fraudulent information in your medical records. If you are worried about medical identity theft, or feel that you may be a victim, read the World Privacy Forum's “What to do if you are a victim of medical ID theft” consumer tips,  released in May 2006 and updated regularly.
    Posted Feb 28 2010, 09:36 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Study Shows Women More Likely to Be Victims Of Identity Theft

    Women seem to be more likely to become victims of identity theft than men.

    Once again, the Javelin Identity Fraud Survey Report has been released and shows a significant difference between the way men and women react to identity theft fraud. For the second straight year, the  study by Javelin Strategy & Research shows a “pronounced gender disparity” in identity theft, with women found to be 26 percent more likely to be victims of fraud than men.

    The 2010 Javelin report found that fraud attacks involving women occurred more often through face-to-face interactions, occurring when making purchases at stores and restaurants, where there is less consumer control. Against common belief, online purchases actually offer the consumer greater control of sensitive financial information, with credit card numbers encrypted and a host of security controls in place due to the efforts of online merchants to counter the perceived threat posed by the internet to privacy. So called “in-person” interactions, that involve handing your credit card or a paper check (which usually involves the clerk or cashier checking your driver's license or other identification), actually offer the consumer very little control over their information.

    Studies have shown that a greater portion of online sales are conducted by men than women. A greater percentage of women make “in-person” purchases than do men. In addition, women were almost three times more likely than men to report their information stolen during an in-person purchase. As a result, men seem to be less susceptible to identity fraud due to their preference for online shopping over real world retail, as just 6 percent of men suffered from breaches caused by in-store retail fraud compared with 16 percent of women. Also, because men seem to be statistically more likely than women to adopt newer technologies such as online banking, they more often have the benefit of high-tech safeguards.

    Even worse, it takes women on average almost twice as long to catch fraud as men, mostly because men are more likely to use tools that help detect fraud more quickly, such as email or mobile alerts. Javelin reports that women took an average of 83 days to discover that their financial identities had been compromised compared with 45 days for men, leading to a far greater risk of repeat fraud for women.
    Posted Feb 22 2010, 06:07 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Rise In Number Of Identity Theft Cases in 2009

    The number if identity theft cases reported for 2009 has increased over the previous year once again, but a major study shows that increased security, consumer awareness and access to prevention services has had a beneficial effect for consumers.

    The sixth consecutive Identity theft research study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research has been released for 2009 and shows the total number of identity theft or fraud cases rose 12% over the prior year. More than 11 million Americans were victimized last year by some type of identity theft. This is the second straight year that the number if cases has risen. In 2008, identity fraud rose 22% over the previous year, and almost 10 million Americans were individually affected. The total cost of identity theft in the U.S. amounted to $54 billion dollars. According to James Van ***, the President of Javelin Strategy & Research, “... fraud increased for the second straight year and is at the highest rate since Javelin began this report in 2003.

    The good news is consumers are getting more aggressive in monitoring, detecting and preventing fraud with the help of technology and partnerships with financial institutions, government agencies and resolution services.”

    The good news is that, as with the previous year's study, the average cost to each individual victim continues to decrease. In 2008, the report found detection and resolution efforts are working well, and that the efforts of consumers and businesses have been effective in detecting and resolving fraud more quickly. As a result the mean consumer costs of identity fraud plummeted by 31 percent to $496 per incident in 2008. In 2009, that figure dropped even further to an average $373 per fraud incident. Out‐of‐pocket costs can include  unreimbursed financial losses, lost wages due to time taken off work, and legal fees for those victims who attempt to prosecute those responsible. As banks have increased their efforts in counteracting fraud and minimizing the cost and inconvenience suffered by consumers. Many victims did not experience any out of pocket costs at all.

    The time in resolving fraud has also decreased for the second straight year. The average time to resolve cases of fraud was 21 hours in 2009. Due to the zero‐liability fraud protection offered by most banks and credit card companies, most victims will only have to pay out‐of‐pocket expenses to cover their time in resolving fraud, not for reimbursing fraudulent charges.    

    These decreases are likely due to greater consumer awareness of the risk of identity theft and the increased availability of security, controls and consumer education campaigns by banks, card associations and other organizations; and greater access to more sophisticated prevention and detection resources from privacy and security companies. As businesses and consumers continue to work closely together and with consumers more frequently updating anti-spyware and anti-virus software and protecting sensitive data by safely adopting online financial services, such as online banking and bill paying, the Javelin report states that it expects these trends to continue down in the year 2010.
    Posted Feb 22 2010, 06:02 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Robin Hood in Denver, Colorado?

    Robin Hood in Denver?

    Robin Joshua Hood, 34, not the famed Sherwood Forest bandit — was charged today in Denver with identity theft and criminal impersonation.

    Robin Hood was caught after attempting to steal from a Denver record store on January 6th. He was stopped by security personnel, police were called, and he was issued a summons to appear in court for shoplifting. The name and identification he gave to police were not his, it turns out.

    When Hood showed up in court, it was discovered that he had been fraudulently using the name and identification of a man whose wallet he claims to have found in the street one day. Police said that Hood stated that he had found a wallet in downtown Denver and decided to assume the identity of the owner because he was being investigated on drug charges and didn't want to be arrested in Denver. Police searched him and found four used "injection devices" in Hood's left front pants pocket. Hood told the officers that he used the devices for injecting heroin.

    The man whose identification Hood was using told investigators that he had lost his wallet on December 14th. The wallet, he said, contained both his Colorado driver's license and ID. He also said he did not know Hood and hadn't given Hood permission to use his ID.

    Robin Hood – the legendary, original Robin Hood was portrayed as “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor,” and lived in Sherwood Forest, in Nottinghamshire, England. The very first known rhyme, four lines from the early 15th century, began: "Robyn hode in scherewode stod." If there was actually a real “Robin Hood,” evidence survives from middle-age writings placing his birthplace at Loxley in South Yorkshire and his exploits in either Nottinghamshire or the area of Barnsdale, in South Yorkshire.

    His grave has been claimed to be at Kirklees Priory, Mirfield in West Yorkshire. A statue to the famed archer and champion of the poor stands on the grounds of Nottingham Castle.

    Posted Feb 20 2010, 06:49 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • W-2s and 1099s

    Watch your mail … many “tax-time” forms contain sensitive personal information … including your Social Security number.

    As we reach the height of tax season, the mail is full of forms containing a wealth of personal information. Employers were required by law to send out W-2s by the end of January. In addition to W-2 forms, many organizations are required to send out something called “information returns,” better known as 1099s. While most people are familiar with W-2 Forms, which employers use to report wages and tips of employees, not everyone is familiar with 1099 forms.

    A 1099 form is used to report certain types of income and financial transactions to the IRS.  A copy is required to be mailed to the taxpayer.  There are over 30 variations of IRS Form 1099.  You may receive a Form 1099 if you had non-wage income such as unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, interest, dividends, pensions, death benefits, or consulting fees.  A 1099 is issued to you if you are paid as a self-employed, independent contractor. For a complete list of reasons why you might receive a 1099 form, read the IRS's Guide to Information Returns at http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=98114,00.html. Issuers of 1099s generally must mail copies to taxpayers by January 31, so you can expect to receive them in your mailbox by early February. Since 1099s contain your social security number, as well as financial information, there is a risk that they can be misused for the purpose of committing identity theft. For this reason, the IRS created a pilot program this year to test the idea of allowing businesses to only print the last 4 digits of your social security number on the 1099.

    “A person’s identifying number is sensitive personal information.  A risk exists that this information could be misappropriated from a payee statement and misused in various ways, such as to facilitate identity theft.  In an effort to minimize this risk, this notice creates a pilot program allowing truncation of individual identifying numbers on certain paper payee statements.”

    Businesses are not required to truncate Social Security numbers.  Furthermore, the pilot project does not include IRS Form W-2, the most common tax form this time of year. So you can expect that there will be mail in your mailbox that leaves you at risk for identity theft. Your social security number is the key to identity theft, but some 1099s also contain bank account or other financial account information. This is not something you want to fall into the hands of identity thieves!

    So what can you do to protect yourself? Here are some suggestions:

    • Purchase a locking mailbox – that way, only you can retrieve your mail.
    • Never leave your mail in the mailbox overnight.
    • If you are away on vacation, have your mail stopped and held at the Post Office until you return home.
    • When you move, make sure that you send a change of address to all companies that you do business with, so your forms can come to the right address.

    Don't let tax time be any more stressful than it has to be!
    Posted Feb 13 2010, 05:17 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • "Password Protected"

    Creating strong passwords to protect against identity theft.

    In the battle to keep our personal and financial information out of the hands of identity thieves, passwords are frequently the last line of defense. To an identity thief, there is a virtual treasure-trove of information stored online. Web-based e-mail programs, online banking and brokerage sites, photo and document storage sites all store personal data and require a username and password to gain access. Some sites, such as online banking accounts, may provide additional protection through “secret questions” or other security features.

    Even though I know all this, my number one criteria when choosing a password is making it easy to remember! I am guilty of using the same password for every site I can. Sometimes I have to choose a password for a site that requires that the password be formatted a certain way (i.e., must be at least 6 letters, with one number and one capital letter). Even though I know this is to help me choose a more secure password, I find it terribly annoying, mainly because I cannot use the one I use for every other site!

    I suspect that I am not alone. Experts tell us that password-protected web sites are becoming more vulnerable because often people use the same passwords on numerous sites. One study found that over 30% of users recycle the same password for every site that they access.

    A strong password can help protect against hackers and identity thieves. Here are some suggestions that I've found to help come up with passwords that can aid in preventing unwanted invasions of privacy, fraud or identity theft.
    • Don’t use personal information.  Any part of your name, birthday, Social Security number, or similar information for your loved ones is a bad password choice.
    • Avoid sequences of letters or numbers such as “123” or “xyz.” Just as bad are sequences that occur via keys next to each other on the keyboard, such as “qwe.”
    •  Most passwords are case sensitive, so use a mixture of upper case and lower case letters, as well as numbers.
    • If the site allows, use special characters such as  $, #, and &.
    • The longer the password, the better. There are computerized “password cracking” programs out there that can easily defeat a password of seven characters or less.
    • Use different passwords for different accounts and applications. That way, if one password is breached, your other accounts won’t be put at risk too.  
    • Write your passwords down and keep them in a secure place (secure places do not include post-it notes on your monitor, under your mouse pad or, worst of all, in a folder on your hard drive!)
    • Common words are easier to break than passwords that are not actual words. One good way to create a strong password is to pick an easily remembered word and misspell it or add special characters and numbers to it.
    • Many sites ask you to choose a security question, which is used when you have forgotten your password. While this can be a helpful feature, be careful when choosing your security question, as this can be a “back door” that lets unauthorized users gain access. Don't choose a question that can easily be answered by others.
    Microsoft has an online password strength checker at: www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/password/checker.mspx. If your password is weak, change it! Remember, passwords are there to keep your personal and financial information secure – and even though they are sometimes a pain in the $@#!*, they are necessary tool in the battle against fraud and identity theft.
    Posted Feb 13 2010, 04:32 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Alzheimer's Patient Caregiver Charged With Identity Theft, Murder.

    An alzheimer's caregiver charged with identity theft may also be indicted for the murder of another patient.

    A Hinds County, Mississippi grand jury indicted Stephanie Fields on a charge of stealing a patient's identity. Roy Stingley, 90, was cared for by Fields along with several other elderly patients at her home on State Street in Jackson. Fields allegedly used Stingley's identity to open several credit card accounts and charging over $6,000. The Mississippi State Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is in charge of prosecuting the case, and continues to investigate Fields to see if there are other victims of identity theft among those she has cared for in the past. Stingley's family now has the burden of working to clean up his credit accounts and restore his good name.

    In an unexpected twist of events, it was reported yesterday that Fields may face an additional muder charge. Another patient under her care, Janice Hollins died in January during the cold snap. The Hinds County coroner stated that she may have frozen to death while sleeping in a room with broken windows in freezing temperatures. If so, Fields could be charged with murder if the coroner determines that her death was, indeed a homicide.

    Fields does not have a state license to operate a home care facility and only needs one if she cares for three or more people at a time. The health department does not oversee such unlicensed private care homes. The state legislature is working to close that loophole in the law and give the health department more oversight authority. In the meanitme, the county coroner, the Jackson Police department and the health department will continue to investigate the cause of Hollins' death. A final medical examiner's report is expected within days.

    Fields remains at the Hinds County Detention Center.

    Posted Feb 12 2010, 05:16 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • ID Theft: Protecting Yourself

    What should you do to protect yourself against identity theft?

    According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) in San Diego, up to 7 million people are victims of identity theft each year … this translates to more than a dozen people per minute! Thanks in part to the internet revolution and the increase in the use of credit and debit cards over the past few decades, a greater number of people have access to our sensitive personal information, which has dramatically increased the risk of identity theft. Identity thieves are often highly sophisticated criminals, using technology to steal your personal information … instead of dumpster diving or stealing mail.

    To protect yourself against identity theft, shred or burn papers with credit card or bank account numbers, Social Security numbers or other personal information before throwing them away. Don't have your Social Security Number printed on your checks. Make sure that you check your credit report at least once per year to make sure it doesn't have accounts you don't know about. It's also a good idea to check your credit report before applying for a loan, if you've been denied for credit, or if you're planning to take steps to repair your credit. Under federal law, consumers who believe their identity has been stolen are eligible to receive a free credit report.  These reports can be easily ordered on-line from all three major credit bureaus, or from a site like FreeCreditReport.com. Carefully read through each line of your reports, taking note of any discrepancies, unfamiliar accounts or credit inquiries, or any incorrect information (wrong home addresses, phone numbers, etc).

    If somebody acting in your name illegally openes new credit accounts or applies for unsecured loans, you can ask the credit agencies to issue an initial fraud alert on your credit report. This is the same step you would take if, for example, your wallet has been lost or stolen. An initial alert requires companies to contact you to confirm requests for new accounts before they are  established. In the event of more serious theft, you can have an extended alert placed on your credit report,which lasts for seven years, and entitles you to two free credit reports within twelve months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. Consumer reporting companies will remove your name from their lists for pre-screened credit offers for five years. Contact all of the creditors who have  issued fraudulent accounts to dispute any charges. By law you have 60 days from the day you receive your credit card or banking statements to contest any charges; after that you may be held liable for any false charges, regardless of whether or not you actually incurred them! Some creditors will require you to file a police report. Close all accounts that you know or suspect have been tampered with.

    Be alert for e-mail “phishing” scams. "Phishing" is the attempt to obtain personal information via fraudulent email. These e-mails look real and are an attempt to scam you into surrendering private information. The e-mail will usually contain a link to a bogus Web site where you will be asked to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, social security, and bank account numbers. Reputable organizations will almost NEVER send you and e-mail asking you to send personal information! If you do receive such an e-mail and are not certain whether is is fraudulent or not, call the company involved.

    Unfortulately, identity theft is a fact of life and repairing your damaged credit and reputation can take months or years and cost you a lot of money. Be alert to possible fraud and take preventive action to minimize your chances of becoming a victim. Take the ID Theft quiz at LifeLock.com to see if you are at risk for identity theft!
    Posted Feb 11 2010, 05:04 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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