Identity theft causes major headaches

Identity theft is not a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen. With today’s advanced technology, the world of identity theft is proving to be a huge challenge to safeguarding one’s identity.

According to the statistics provided by the Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN), identity theft is the No. 1 national complaint for the 14th year in a row. For 2013, there were over 290,000 total complaints reported nationally, of which 4,195 complaints were actual identity theft. About 150 complaints came from Pueblo County.

The CSN statistics further stated that Colorado ranks 13th in regards to identity theft in the United States. The statistics are based only on those instances that were actually reported to the proper authorities. Many cases go unreported because of the victim’s embarrassment for having fallen prey to a fraud committed against them. The numbers are probably much higher, as it is believed only one out of five will report.

While financial gain is a primary reason for committing identity theft, it is not the only one. Stolen identities also are being used to obtain utilities, telephone services and, by some perpetrators, even employment. Some perpetrators attempt to justify their actions by stating that they meant no harm to anyone and it was just a means to support their family. While they may have meant no harm, the lengths to which some victims must go to clear up the matter is by no means an easy task.

Sadly, new evidence is showing that identity thieves are targeting children for unused Social Security numbers. Think about it, by the time a child reaches the college age or begins their independent life, many years of identity theft may have gone by undetected, making it not only a difficult task to clean up but also a nightmare to prove who committed the act.

How would you feel, as a parent, while attempting to provide a safe and secure future for your child, if you discovered that your child was shown to have a home foreclosure on their financial record, perhaps in another state; or had allegedly incurred a very large utility bill just across town. Approximately 80 percent of identity theft is committed by a friend or family member who has access to the personal information necessary to commit the crime.

So, how do you know if you have become a victim of identity theft? Most of the time, it is discovered when you attempt to make a major purchase, such as a home or automobile. Credit and background checks may reveal accounts that you never opened or criminal cases in which you were charged as a defendant. Some discover they are victims when they are notified by the Internal Revenue Service that they owe taxes on earned income from a place the victim has never worked or even lived. Some victims find out during routine traffic stops by law enforcement.

It is better to be proactive rather than reactive. Never give out your personal identifying information (name, date of birth, Social Security number, government issued identification number, passport number, employee, student or military number) to anyone you do not know.

Take the opportunity to check your credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies. You may order them all at one time through or by calling toll-free 1-877-322-8228 (listen closely to the prompts), or what I would recommend is following a four-month schedule.

For example, order a credit report from Equifax; four months from that date, order a credit report from Experian; four months from that date, order a credit report from TransUnion; four months from that date, you have rotated into a new year and are now entitled to another free credit report from Equifax. Please remember, this refers to credit reports, not credit scores.

The following credit reporting agencies may be contacted to obtain a free credit report at:

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111

Experian: 1-888-397-3742

TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800

As identity theft of the younger generation is rapidly growing, be sure that when checking your credit report, you also check your child’s as well to determine if any fraudulent activity is showing. If they do, report it to the credit bureau that has noted the activity that this is a child that should have no credit built up yet. Also make a report of identity theft to either the Pueblo Police Department or Pueblo Sheriff’s Office.

Should you yourself become a victim of identity theft:

1. Make an identity theft report at either the Pueblo Police Department or Pueblo Sheriff’s Office.

2. Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations. 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261.

3. Place a fraud alert on all three credit reporting agencies by calling one phone number at 1-888-766-0008.

Since 2013, your District Attorney’s Office has assisted 204 victims of identity theft through either criminal prosecution or through court orders determining factual innocence in their cases. If you should discover your identity is being used unlawfully, contact the District Attorney’s Office at 719-583-6030 for assistance and additional resources.

Remember: Identify a scam before a scam identifies you.

Stacie Harris is a paralegal employed in the Pueblo District Attorney’s Office. She is a “fraud-fighter” and has been engaged in this activity for 8 years.

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