By Frank Lewis
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says his office’s Identity Theft Unit received nearly 3,500 complaints and helped identity theft victims clear over $1 million in fraudulent debt during the unit’s first three years of existence, according to complaint information.
“Identity theft continues to be a serious problem for many Ohioans,” DeWine said. “Victims can experience lower credit scores, rejection for a loan or a job, or even an arrest for a crime they did not commit. Our goal is to give people the direction and assistance they need to resolve the negative effects of identity theft and move on with their lives.”
In September 2012, DeWine announced the creation of the Identity Theft Unit, a division of the Consumer Protection Section. He said That unit helps victims correct problems typically associated with identity theft. At a victim’s request, a specialist will work with creditors, collectors, credit reporting agencies, law enforcement, and other organizations on the victim’s behalf.
Scioto County Sheriff’s Captain David Hall says, while the methods change, the trend toward more scams continues to keep law enforcement busy.
“We see probably three to five reports a week on identity theft and it changes all the time,” Hall said. “The fraudulent activity changes on how they deceive people. So they (the public) really need to pay attention to who they are talking to on the phone or what kind of mail they receive and to verify what they’re receiving is actually accurate and real.
Hall said people should contact the agency they believe they are dealing with when it comes to phone calls and mail. He said people should be careful especially if the person sounds like they may be from a foreign country.
One scam has to do with people claiming to be law enforcement officers calling and saying unless you send money they will arrest you.
“They’re not going to come and arrest you,” Hall said. “We wouldn’t call you and come and arrest you. Law enforcement would just show up on your doorstep. So when they threaten you, that is not going to happen.”
Another scam is the one in which a call comes in saying a relative is in jail in a foreign country and needs money to be released.
“That is still going around,” Hall said. “and people do fall for it unfortunately. Know where your loved ones are. Call somebody in your family before you do something like that.”
DeWine offers the following tips for avoiding and detecting identity theft:
- Check your credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can pull all three at once, or you can stagger pulling your reports throughout the year.
- Monitor your bank accounts. Look for suspicious activity, and if you find any errors, immediately notify your bank or your credit or debit card provider. (The Fair Credit Billing Act allows consumers to dispute credit card fraud within 60 days of receiving the bill containing the disputed charge.)
- Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze essentially puts a lock on your credit so that most third parties can’t access your report. This helps stop imposters from opening credit in your name. Contact each credit reporting agency to place a freeze.
- If your personal information has been compromised in a data breach, place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion — to place the alert, which will stay on your credit report for 90 days. The alert is free and will make it more difficult for someone to open credit in your name.
Consumers who believe they have been the victim of identity theft should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.