At your Better Business Bureau, we give a lot of presentations on scams and identity theft. One of the common things we hear from victims of identity theft is how hard it is to report and recover their identity. According to the Federal Trade Commission, it can take six months and 200 hours of work to get everything sorted out. And that can include hours on the phone just to report the incident. But thanks to a new partnership between the FTC and Internal Revenue Service, you can now report tax-related identity theft electronically.
The two government agencies made the announcement last week informing the public they can now file their report through FTC’s website identitytheft.gov. Tax-Related identity theft occurs when a person’s Social Security number has been stolen to file a tax return and claim a refund. You won’t know you’ve been a victim of this scam until you file your claim. That means anyone who hasn’t filed yet could be a target.
The partnership makes identitytheft.gov the only place where consumers can submit their report electronically. Victims will receive an Identity Theft Report that can be used instead of a police report to help clear their credit reports of fake information; it includes letters they can send to creditors. The site also provides victims a personal recovery plan.
Although there is no method for guaranteeing that identity theft will never happen to you, BBB offers these tips to help you minimize your risk
▪ Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated contact or know the business with which you are dealing.
▪ Keep personal information in a safe place. If you employ outside help or are having service work done in your home, keep your personal information out of sight.
▪ Give your Social Security number only when necessary. Ask to use another identifying number whenever possible.
▪ Never put your account information on the outside of an envelope or a postcard. Ensure sensitive mail is sent and received at a locked box. Shred unneeded documents.
Carry only the cards you need. Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry in your wallet or purse. Do not carry your Social Security card unless absolutely necessary.
▪ Cut up old or expired credit cards. Close inactive credit card and bank accounts you no longer need. Even though you do not use them, these accounts appear on your credit report and may be used by thieves.
▪ For your ATM card, choose a Personal Identification Number (PIN) different from your address, telephone number, middle name, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your birth date or any other information that could be easily discovered by thieves.
▪ Memorize your PIN; do not write it on your ATM card or keep it written on a piece of paper somewhere in your wallet. Statistics show that in many instances of ATM card fraud, cardholders wrote their PINs on their ATM cards or slips of paper kept with their wallets or purses.
▪ Compare your ATM receipts and cashed checks with your periodic bank statements to check for unauthorized transfers or charges.
▪ Ask your bank about its privacy policies and information practices. Find out the circumstances under which your bank would provide your account information to a third party.
▪ Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies at least once every year to review your file for possible fraud. You can do so at annualcreditreport.com. Do this over a secured connection.
Veronica Craker, veronica.craker@ thebbb.org, is the content and communications director for Better Business Bureau Northwest +Pacific. To check a business or report a scam, go to bbb.org or call 208-342-4649.
Help for victims
Identitytheft.gov is an important resource for recovering from identity theft. Once you’re on the path to recovery, warn others about scams you’ve experienced by reporting to BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.