The Emery County Sheriff's Office arranged for the Attorney General's Office to come to Emery County to present two workshops on identity theft prevention one in Green River and one in Castle Dale. Scott Morrill from the Attorney General's Office did the presentations.
Scams can take all shapes and forms as people try to weasel your personal information from you for unscrupulous purposes. Morrill said we must always be on guard against those who want to part us and our money. One popular scam is having someone claiming to be a bail bondsmen call and tell you one of your relatives is in jail and you must send money immediately to bail them out of jail. Don't do it he cautioned. Don't send anyone money under those circumstances. It's a fraud.
Victims of social security fraud are numerous. A number of document mills have been shut down recently in Salt Lake and surrounding areas. They manufacture and distribute fake documents in order for the purchaser to buy things, including big ticket items like vehicles and houses.
Many times these fake social security numbers will actually correspond to a legitimate social security number held by an American. Children are often victims of social security card number theft. It can take years to straighten these matters out. Morrill said don't count on the social security system to help fix the problem. They will tell you that social security cards were never intended as sources of identification.
If those who are stealing social security card numbers are found out, they will change social security numbers, change locations and start their scam over somewhere else. They will open credit cards and rack up credit card debt with the fake social security numbers.
Morrill said there is no solution for identity theft. People need to get smarter about it, but there is no way to stop it completely. There are safeguards you can take to protect yourself and your children.
One item he suggested is to put a credit freeze on your credit record. Then if anyone tries to secure credit under your name, you will be immediately alerted. If you need to make a large purchase using credit, then you can have the freeze lifted for a short time and then reinstated. This credit freeze can only be requested by you.
Morrill said identity theft crimes do pack prison terms. If you are guilty of theft below $5,000 then the amount of time behind bars would be zero-five years. If the amount of the theft is more than $5,000 then it's one-15 years.
The one catch to the amount of time spent behind bars is whether or not the person knowingly used someone's information. Morrill said criminals have received reduced sentences simply because they said they did not know the information belonged to someone else. If amounts of theft are more than $50,000 then the federal government gets involved. Morrill said unfortunately smaller amounts of theft are sometimes washed away. In America today, one in seven people will become victims of identity theft.
With the document mills, anyone can become a victim. Fifteen percent of the social security numbers in the system are associated with two or more people. "It's a big problem," said Morrill.
Taxes paid for multiple social security card numbers goes into an earning file. That fund is growing. It has $300 billion in it. The government is using this fund and rotating it back into the general fund. But, the dilemma is tax payers are not getting credit for the taxes they have paid on their social security number. Morrill said he is aggravated that social security does not view this as their problem.
Identity theft is so huge because there is information everywhere, in your mail, your facebook, people call and try to pump information from you, emails are sent from what looks like a bank or the IRS to try to gain information. You have to be very cautious not to give any information out to a fake bank or organization. Banks will never call you and ask for your personal information. They already have it from when you became their customer. They will never call you. If someone does, it's a scam.
Encrypt all personal information on your computer. Hackers are everywhere, trying to get into your personal computer. Even reputable sites have pop up ads that if you click on them, the hacker can get into your personal computer, even when you are off line. Be careful. All businesses should secure their customers personal information. There are consequences for businesses if personal information gets out from lack of security on your part.
There is so much information everywhere it is so easy for it to be used for illegal purposes.
Morrill encouraged everyone to shred any piece of paper that contains your name.
He said people will use your information illegally to do the following things: work, buy car, purchase items, open bank accounts, receive medical care, buy house, start utility accounts, go to stores, start businesses; they use your information for everything.
Morrill said there is even an online dating scam, where someone will offer to meet with you, but you have to send them the money for the plane fare so they can get there and then they steal your money and never show up. Scammers will also take over your email accounts and send emails to all your friends and contacts asking for money. These scammers profile people and find out everything about you.
Morrill told about portable skimming devices that are sometimes inserted in gas pumps and ATM machines by thieves. If you insert your credit card in there, then they will have all your information. They can also be used by people who take your credit card at restaurants when you pay your bill and then leave the table with it.
Keep your computer clean, turn off the computer when not in use. Be careful with shared information, it can lead to spyware and other tools being added to your computer without your knowledge. Downloading music can also lead to access to your computer from unwanted sources.
Watch your credit card statements, shut down that credit card if someone gets your information and there are charges on there you didn't make. There are advanced fee scams where people will ask you to pay a fee for items that you will never receive. Fake ads are everywhere. Be careful what you click on. Watch for lookalike emails where thieves are smishing, which means they are trying to get personal information from you.
Morrill said it takes a lot of time, more than 8,000 hours to clear up an identity theft episode. It is expensive to get things cleared up, too. If someone using your name commits a crime, then you could be arrested, falsely, for someone else's crime.
Since the year 2000 there has been a 793 percent increase in identity theft. Five percent of all children have had their social security numbers used. There is an ID theft every four seconds nationwide.
Morrill said you need to make sure you report a crime, you don't need to be embarrassed. In most cases you will need a police case number to begin to get your money back and restore your credit. There are 15 million victims of identity theft each year.
The three main credit reporting agencies are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. For a free credit report you can go to www.annualcreditreport.com. Check your credit reports often to make sure there is no activity on there that isn't yours.
Morrill went over the steps to take if you are a victim of identity theft. These steps are outlined on their website. Go to www.idtheft.utah.gov
You can also register your child at this site to protect them from identity theft. Creditors will be notified when a child's information is used to acquire credit.
Morrill said there are many products out there that claim they can protect you from identity theft. It is impossible to be totally protected. There are precautions you can take, but nothing is 100 percent guaranteed. Since January there are 10,000 Utah children registered and its free to register. Morrill said with those 10,000 children it's been amazing to him to see the amount of letters going out to creditors for the children registered. This program is really going to help safeguard children and their information, according to Morrill.