It’s important to be armed with knowledge about the scope of identity theft and the steps necessary to prevent it and correct the crime should it occur to you.
Those topics were covered in a thorough presentation by Tina Nash of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Marco office at the identity theft seminar held recently at Wesley United Methodist Church. The event was sponsored by Connectivity-me, a Marco-based, business networking organization.
She said statistics show that identity theft is the country’s fastest growing crime with 19 people victimized every minute and:
- 85 percent of the crimes involving the fraudulent use of credit cards and banking information.
- About half of victims losing more than $100.
- Victims spending, on average, $500 and 30 hours to resolve each identity theft crime.
- With technological advances, cyber threats (including identity theft) have become more and more significant.
The result can be money withdrawn from accounts, purchases made with credit cards, accounts opened in your name, a damaged credit score and loss of control of confidential information.
Nash explained that thieves can employ simplistic means in stealing someone’s personal information or multifaceted, highly technical approaches, with examples being:
- Mailbox raiding and dumpster diving.
- Corporate data breaches.
- Phishing scams which allow thieves to secure vital personal data by pretending to be a legitimate organization requesting your information via email, phone, website, etc. are designed to steal your money. The identity thief typically wants your bank account.
- The use of “skimming devices” at ATM or credit card machines to capture information.
- Utilizing social networking sites to collect personal information.
Among the precautionary steps she outlined were:
- Always shredding your trash, especially anything that includes personal information.
- Using strong passwords for the internet and personal accounts.
- Avoiding sharing too much personal information on social media.
- Protecting information and items that can result in identity theft, such as your Social Security number, credit card numbers, PIN numbers, passwords, passports and license numbers, never giving them out online.
- Updating privacy settings for websites you use.
- Regular monitoring of financial accounts and credit reports with the three credit reporting companies.
- Where appropriate, using a safe, locked cabinets or lock-box and being careful where purses, wallets and checkbooks are left.
And it isn’t just strangers who are the perpetrators where identity theft is concerned. “Fifty percent of identity theft is from family and friends,” said Nash, who is a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley.
Nash noted the fact that federal consumer protection laws treat credit and debit cardsdifferently. Personal liability for fraudulent credit card charges is limited to $50, but the liability could be much higher for a debit card. So it’s important to review account statements and credit reports often and to consider setting up automatic alerts with your bank, which can provide quick notification of unexpected or fraudulent charges.
If credit or debit card fraud should occur, contact the bank or credit card company immediately and work with the credit reporting companies to have the bad charges removed, she said. It’s also important to contact your local police department and the Federal Trade Commission, Nash added.
Awareness of having been victimized can come from failing to receive bills or other important mail because an identity thief may have established a fraudulent address in your name, as well as:
- Receiving credit cards for which you did not apply.
- Being denied credit for no apparent reason.
- Receiving calls or letters from debt collectors or a business about merchandise or services you did not buy.
This was the first of a series of seminars that Nash and Morgan Stanley will be conducting on Marco. The next one focuses on credit management and will be held on February 23 at Wesley United.
“I like to educate people on different subjects,” said Nash. “We have retirement, we have long-term care seminars, we have identity theft seminars, women and wealth because a lot of women are outliving men these days, so they need to know what to do and how to do it. That’s kind of where I focus. I like to help women. I like to help people through different changes in their lives, divorce, marriage, births and deaths.”
Pat Caltrider and her husband Pete were among the roughly 50 people who attended the identity theft seminar.
“I think that everyone is afraid of their identity being stolen at some point in time,” she said. “We’ve had it happen once by running our credit card through the scanner at a gas station. Our daughter-in-law was scammed on her taxes. She tried to repair everything herself and it took her a very long time. I think this is very valuable for everyone to come and listen to something like this.”
For more information about identity theft, visit www.identitytheft.gov. In addition, Morgan Stanley has created a free booklet entitled “10 Steps to Protect Your Financial House from Identity Theft.”
To receive a booklet or FTC sponsored resources on identity theft, or a seminar schedule, contact Tina Nash at 239-393-2912 or Tina.Nash@morganstanley.com.