Attorney General Abbott Advises Attention To Identity Theft
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Texas ranks second in the nation for identity theft complaints, so Texans should carefully guard their identities and credit ratings. In 2008, nearly 32,000 Texans were identity theft victims and as a result, lost thousands of dollars and hours of time attempting to correct their credit ratings and personal financial history.|
Identity theft is a crime that occurs when a criminal illegally uses someone else’s personal information – whether it’s another’s name, address, driver’s license number, Social Security number, credit card number – to commit fraud or other crimes. Sometimes identity theft is detected quickly, but other times it may take years before it surfaces. As a result, a victim may not recognize the theft until his or her credit has been destroyed. No one, including children, is immune to this crime.
The average victim loss runs into hundreds of dollars, with victims forced to spend hours cleaning up the damage. But the worst cases can cost thousands of dollars and take years to fully repair. To help prevent identity theft, the OAG conducts public education efforts and pursues vendors that fail to protect their customers’ personal information.
Identity thieves obtain their victims’ personal information in several ways. Here are just a few:
Texans should review their financial statements regularly and look for unusual activity. They should also request and review their credit report each year. To get a free copy of the “big three” credit reports, visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com, call (877) 322-8228 or write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281.
Texans who believe their identity has been stolen can follow these steps to minimize their losses:
First request a credit report “Fraud Alert,” which requires that creditors follow special procedures before creating new accounts or making changes to existing accounts. A call to any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies can initiate a 90-day fraud alert.
Fraud alerts entitle credit card holders to free copies of their credit reports. Potential identity theft victims should look for credit inquiries from companies they have not contacted, accounts they did not open, and debts on their accounts that they cannot explain.
Identity theft victims should file complaints with the OAG and the Federal Trade Commission. A printed FTC complaint, which is available online, in conjunction with a police report, can constitute an identity theft report and entitle a victim to certain protections. The identity theft report can be used to:
The OAG identity theft Web site, www.texasfightsidtheft.gov contains a wealth of helpful information for identity theft victims, including an Identity Theft Kit. Information at www.texasfightsidtheft.gov will help stop a perpetrator from continuing to use a stolen identity and help a victim recover from the effects. The site explains how to report the crime, work with businesses, close fraudulent accounts, and place a security alert and/or freeze on a credit report.
For more information about how to recover from identity theft and steps Texans can take to protect their personal information, visit www.protectyouridnow.org or www.texasfightsidtheft.gov.
Office of Attorney General
Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Hotline: (877) ID-THEFT (438-4338)
TTY: (866) 653-4261
FTC Identity Theft Clearinghouse
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Consumer Credit Reporting Companies
Equifax: (800) 525-6285
Experian: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
Better Business Bureau
ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.
Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.