Commissioner's Corner: Preventing identity theft

In February, I had two experiences with identity thieves squatting in vacant homes in quiet neighborhoods to perpetrate their crimes.

  • By
  • | 11:46 a.m. April 23, 2014
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
  • Opinion
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In February, I had two experiences with identity thieves squatting in vacant homes in quiet neighborhoods to perpetrate their crimes. One was the house directly behind my home. Thanks to very vigilant neighbors and a proactive Winter Park Police Department, two identity thieves were arrested at the home that had been in foreclosure and was listed for sale. The identity thieves used fraudulently obtained personal information to apply for credit cards using false identities. A similar situation occurred near a friend’s home in south Orlando. Sheriffs’ deputies raided the home in question and collected evidence about an identity theft ring. However, the identity thieves fled before the raid occurred.

Identity theft is an increasing problem for citizens across America. Identity theft is a blanket term for three types of crimes: unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing account; unauthorized use or attempted use of personal information to open a new account; or misuse of personal information for other fraudulent purposes. Often criminals will use several of these types of identity theft together to further defraud their victims.

Identity theft can affect anyone. After my father’s death in December 2011, an identity thief filed a fraudulent tax return shortly thereafter and obtained a fraudulent tax refund creating an IRS morass for my family. These crimes cost families more than $13 billion that year. More than 60 percent of all identity theft cases involved the use of an existing credit card or misuse of personal information by criminals. Certain groups are also more at risk of falling prey to identity theft. Households headed by 12 to 17 year olds were most likely to be victimized with the chance of victimization decreasing as age increased. However, the likelihood of being targeted increased as family income increased. Households with an income of over $75,000 per year were over twice as likely to be targeted as those making between $35,000 and $49,999.

Your vigilance is crucial to detecting and catching identity thieves. Stay on the lookout to prevent your family from being targeted by identity thieves. Be sure to regularly check your credit report to ensure that your account information is not being misused. Secure your family’s financial records so they cannot be stolen or copied. Limit what you carry in your wallet or purse. Leave unnecessary documents and credit cards at home. Shred receipts, credit offers, bank statements, and prescription labels instead of throwing them away. Identity thieves may look through your trash to discover your personal information.

If you notice unexplained withdrawals from your bank account, unfamiliar charges to your credit cards, receive debt collection calls or medical bills for other people, or stop receiving your bills or monthly statements in your mail, your personal information may have been compromised. Immediately notify your bank and any other businesses associated with your compromised accounts. You can also place an initial fraud alert on your credit report by contacting each of the three major credit-reporting companies. If you notice strangers looking through your mail or going through your garbage, alert local law enforcement immediately.

I hope you will follow these tips to keep your identity safe. As always, my staff and I are available to answer questions you may have on identity theft or any other issue affecting Orange County. We can be reached at 407-836-7350 or by email at [email protected]


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