Note to readers: This is another of my long articles, so settle in.
[All emphases by Always On Watch]
Upon returning from our Thanksgiving vacation, my husband and I had to deal with the possibility of identity theft because of the break-in at my accountant's office. I immediately followed my accountant's suggestion of placing a ninety-day fraud alert by notifying Equifax. My notification of the break-in was some two weeks late, however, due to Thanksgiving vacation.
Along came commenter Storm, a fraud detective who works identity-theft cases in a major metropolitan area, to leave important information:
"It would be prudent to check again in about 60 days as there is some lag time from when a merchant makes a loan and the loan is reported to equifax. Also make sure you get the fraud alert that lasts 7 years (This must be done in writing). Suspects have been known to wait and try again after the temp hold expires."Storm also suggested checking the official government web site for identity theft, which is, according to the site,
"a one-stop national resource to learn about the crime of identity theft. It provides detailed information to help you protect yourself from identity theft, and the steps to take if it occurs."In a comment to another of my blog articles, Storm pointed out that most identity thefts do not begin with break-ins. In fact, purse or wallet theft is the most common method.
Reproduced in its entirety is this short February 7, 2005 article from Time Magazine:
"The term identity theft may conjure up notions of cyberhacks and Internet scams, but most ID fraud, it turns out, starts off-line. Last year 9.3 million Americans were victims of identity fraud, a problem that cost consumers and businesses some $52 billion. But fewer than 12% of cases start online, according to a survey by Javelin Strategy & Research and the Better Business Bureau. Most ID theft has an old-fashioned beginning: a lost wallet, stolen mail or a friend or relative with easy access to financial information. Another finding: People who monitor accounts online catch fraud earlier and minimize the damage. While the average loss for fraud detected by paper statements was $4,543, it was just $551 for such crimes discovered online."And here is "Personal Finance: How you can (and can't) avoid identity theft," from U.S. News & World Report (6/30/05):
"Identity theft is becoming as ubiquitous as credit card solicitations. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but it's sure starting to feel that way.Storm also made the following points to this blog article, which discusses using a cell phone as an ATM:
'Over the past five years, 28 million Americans—or roughly 13 percent of the adult population—have fallen victim to the crime, in which thieves steal personal information to open lines of credit, obtain loans, or simply purchase goods and services in the stolen name.
"In recent weeks, tens of millions more households have had their personal information lost or stolen, exposing them to a similar fate. Already, Americans are changing their behavior as a result. A new study by the Conference Board shows that 70 percent of Internet users have installed an added layer of software security protection on their home computers. Meanwhile, more than 2 out of 5 Internet users say they are making fewer purchases online as a result of fears about identity theft.
"While there's certainly an argument for being more careful when surfing the Internet and making fewer online purchases, these steps will likely do little to keep you from being a victim of ID theft.
"The most common way consumers fall victim to ID theft is not through the high-tech landscape of the Internet but through conventional means such as a lost or stolen wallet or purse. In fact, online identity theft represents only a small minority of total ID theft cases. For example, only 5 percent of thefts came through computer spyware and only 2 percent of cases were the result of computer hackers, according to a survey by the consulting firm Javelin Strategy & Research.
"There is a good chance you know the person who stole your identity. The Javelin study found that 1 in 5 victims of ID theft last year had their identities stolen by a friend, acquaintance, relative, or employee.
"Most victims of ID theft are already doing the right thing when it comes to their online behavior. Yet they're still falling victim to this crime. For example, 66 percent of ID theft victims last year shredded their financial documents before discarding them while 60 percent used antivirus, antispyware, and firewall software.
"The recent headline-grabbing stories of identity theft show that even if you play it absolutely safe by shredding your documents and making no transactions online, you're still at risk of ID theft if your bank misplaces customer data or should a retailer's computer system get hacked.
"So instead of spending all your time worrying about prevention, think about monitoring your records as well. That means checking all your bank and credit card and loan statements thoroughly every month. And think about signing up for a credit-monitoring program through your bank or one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Fair Isaac, which runs one of the leading credit-scoring services, also offers a credit-monitoring program through its site. These services, which can run from $40 to $100 a year, will alert you should a loan or credit card be opened up fraudulently in your name.
"And don't forget that a new law makes it possible for consumers to get a free copy of each of their three credit reports annually. To learn how to obtain your free reports, [go here]."
"ID Thefts occur 4 major waysStorm's comment about mall kiosks was of particular interest to me because, on December 24, 2005, the Washington Post featured an article entitled "Dreams Incubate in Shopping Carts: Kiosks Seen as Springboards for Immigrant Entrepreneurs":1) yours a physical crime break in etc although homes are rare--aggresive attack"I would be more afraid of the girl at the kiosk making $8 per hour selling the headset than using the headset."
2) trash and mail--passive attack
3) hacking and other electronic tech--can be passive or aggressive
4) employees who have our info
"...Scattered among the malls packed with holiday shoppers are kiosks filled with sunglasses, purses, jewelry and more exotic products. New carts have recently appeared, selling ornaments, candy and other seasonal items. Owners of these small businesses hope to lure some of the shoppers rushing to buy gifts at retail mainstays such as Gap, Ann Taylor and Bloomingdale's....I love the deals which I can find at mall kiosks, but after reading Storm's comment, I'm glad that I've always paid by cash!
"Nationally, about 25 percent of the more than 50,000 carts and kiosks in shopping malls are owned or operated by recent immigrants, according to figures compiled by Patricia Norins, a kiosk consultant and publisher of the trade magazine Specialty Retail Report....
"In many shopping centers, small retailers can open a kiosk for as little as $5,000, which generally covers the price of renting the cart and purchasing the merchandise, according to kiosk owners and Kathy Hannon, senior property manager for Macerich Co., which runs Tysons Corner Center. To open a kiosk, an entrepreneur must present mall managers with a proposal outlining what they will sell and why it will work in the mall's marketplace. Hannon said immigrants can often import unusual goods inexpensively from their home countries.
"Once a proposal has been approved, most shopping centers require a security deposit and the first month's rent for the cart. Kiosk operators often can commit to rent the cart for as little as three months. Norins said profits earned from kiosks vary greatly. Most kiosk owners sell products for about $20 and mark up items at least three times wholesale price, she said. Kiosk owners interviewed declined to describe their markups, but African immigrant Atchossa Tchama said he comfortably replaced the $40,000 income he earned working for the federal government within his first year of owning the kiosk and has since surpassed that...."
Identity theft is particularly troubling because any person can be a victim. I know when and where the thieves got my information (if they indeeed were able to crack the encryption of the data on the twenty-six computers stolen), but nearly all victims never find out how and when they were compromised. Some victims do not find out for years when they try to get a mortgage or if they get arrested.
I will be requesting another report after the first one because some time has to pass in order to allow for any items not currently reported to make their way to the reporting agencies. Lag time exists from when one acquires a car loan and the lender notifies the credit reporting bureaus, and lag time also applies to the various stages of identity-theft investigation.
Regardless whether or not we're suspicious of our own identities having been stolen, once a year, all of us should go here, where each of us can get an annual credit report. The report is free!
In my situation, all seems well--so far, but not even sixty days has passed. And maybe the break-in of my accountant's office was an attempt to get the state-of-the-art computer equipment there and not an attempt to steal my identity. After the bit of research I've done, I cannot afford to assume the best.