Prevent identity theft to avoid headaches

Regardless of who you are or where you live, identity theft is a real risk. This is when someone steals your personal information and uses it to enrich themselves.

There are many ways this happens. For example, thieves could access and use your information to open credit cards or take out a loan. They could use your ATM card and remove money from your account. They could secure a driver’s license or other ID card using your name and their photo. The list goes on, and any of these can be a big problem that takes a long time to resolve.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are just as likely to be targeted and need support from a caring parent, guardian or provider to help guide them through.

According to the Federal Trade Commission website, here are some signs you’ve become a victim:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants will not take your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that you don’t recognize.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS informs you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

According to Lifelock.com, there are many kinds of identity theft:

Existing account takeover identity theft: This is the most frequent type of identity theft and happens when criminals access your current accounts. They can charge your credit cards, file claims against your insurance policies, or otherwise ruin your finances.

This kind of identity theft can be simple to spot if you check your accounts and statements regularly. Criminals may make only small credit or debit charges that can be harder to notice, so be ready to inspect your statements carefully. Often, the criminals’ intent is to make bigger charges later.

New account identity theft: This occurs when a thief creates a totally new account under your name. They might dig credit card applications out of your garbage and submit them or find your personal details on the Internet.

This type of theft can be difficult to spot because you won’t know to look for fraudulent charges on a statement – because you probably won’t get a statement.

Check your credit report regularly to look for accounts you didn’t open. If you’re not signed up for a credit monitoring service, you can request a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—once per year. Access at annualcreditreport.com.

Tax identity theft: Criminals use scams to get their hands on your personal information. They may file a return and claim a refund.

A tipoff may be that you may receive phone calls or text messages that look like they’re from the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS will never ask for your information via social media, text message or email, and it won’t suggest they’re taking legal action.

It’s possible to get emails that look like they’re from the IRS or a financial institution, too. This is called “phishing,” and the intent is to get you to provide personal information or click on links that either lead to fake websites or install malware—short for malicious software—on your computer.

If the IRS rejects your tax return, it may be a red flag someone else has already fraudulently filed a return in your name. Contact the IRS and ask questions. You may need to file a fraud claim using Form 14039. The IRS will verify your identity, and you’ll get a PIN to use on future tax returns.

Medical identity theft: When an identity thief uses your health insurance to get medical care in your name, doctors may update your records with the other person’s medical information. This could lead to another doctor using the wrong information when treating you – a very dangerous scenario. You may also be unable to qualify for life insurance if the premiums are based on the other individual’s health records.

If fake medical bills come to you, you’ll need to dispute them. If the bills don’t come to you, they’ll go unpaid and your credit could get hurt. Monitor your credit report for unpaid medical bills going into collections.

Employment identity theft: This occurs when a scammer who can’t get a job because of a criminal record or bad credit steals your Social Security number to get a job in your name. When that company reports income under your name and Social Security number, the IRS will want taxes from you for income the thief earned using your identity.

This type of identity theft may also impact your Social Security benefits in the future. One way to look for this type of theft is by reviewing the soft inquiries section of your credit report. If you see any you don’t recognize, contact them.

Child identity theft is when scammers use children’s Social Security numbers and other information to open new accounts, apply for government benefits, take out loans, and more. The youngster may not know their credit has been used to run up debt in their name until it’s time to apply for school or a car loan.

Seniors and people with IDD face the same types of identity theft as other adults. They may struggle with tax fraud, accounts being taken over, medical identity theft, and more. But seniors and people with IDD are more vulnerable to identity theft scams because they’re often more trusting, less likely to monitor their financial accounts, or don’t know what threats to look out for. This could result in greater financial loss, with little knowledge on how to handle it, and little money to fall back on.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do every day to prevent identity theft:

  • Never discard personal information in the trash, especially a public trash can. Always shred personal documents like credit card bills, ATM receipts, and bank statements.  
  • Use only secure websites (ones that start with “https”) when you make Internet purchases. PayPal is a safe way to go.
  • Be aware of who is around and may be observing you when using an ATM.
  • Be very cautious when giving out your Social Security number or financial information online or to someone over the phone.
  • When you create a PIN number for an account, make it something that will be impossible to guess.
  • Be careful what you share on social media.

Sometimes despite our best efforts, identity theft will happen. Here are some things to do right away if it does:

  • If a person with a disability has a representative payee, contact them. For anyone supported by AbleLight, contact the corporate office immediately.
  • File a police report. This will provide legal rights for you with credit bureaus and companies where your identity theft took place.
  • Contact your bank where you do business to tell them your identity has been stolen.
  • If you have a credit card, contact the credit card company right away.
  • When you get your monthly credit card statement, review for purchases that you did not make. If there are some, contact the credit card company, in writing, to inform them. Request twice-monthly copies of your credit report until your case is resolved. This is a free service for victims of identity theft.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-438-4338 or online at http://www.consumer.gov/section/scams-and-identity-theft.

Repairing your identity once it has been stolen is a very time-consuming job, so it is important to take time to do the necessary steps to try to ensure you do not become a victim of identity theft.