A FTC report that was recently released stated that identity theft was one again the number one consumer complaint of 2014, putting it at the top of the list for the 15 th consecutive year.
The Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN), which compiled the list, received over 2.5 million complaints made to the commission, state and federal law enforcement agencies, national consumer protection organizations and nongovernmental organizations during the last calendar year. Out of all those complaints 60% were related to fraud, with 13% being about identity fraud.
A separate report from the Identity Theft Resource Center reported 783 data breaches in 2014, a spike of 27.5 percent from 2013, highlighting the fact that identity theft is becoming more rampant than ever.
While the most common way for hackers and thieves to take over an identity was through misusing government documents and records, this type of identity theft decreased from last year, dropping from 46% of all complaints in 2012 as compared to 39% for last year. On the other hand, credit card fraud looks as if it’s becoming a more common form of ID theft, with an increase from 14% of all complaints in 2012 to 17% of all complaints for last year. Credit card fraud is only expected to increase as the US phases out credit cards with magnetic stripes in favor of those with EMV.
The FTC believes that people between the ages of 20 and 60 are most at risk of being impersonated by an identity thief since they are more likely to be gainfully employed and have credit card accounts.
Out of all the states, Florida was home by far to having the most consumer grievances, tallying nearly 200,000 for fraud and other complaints, with 37,059 complaints being related to identity theft. Washington, the second-highest state to consumer grievances, was a distant second, having 10,930 complaints that were related to identity theft. Oregon, Missouri and George round out the list of the top 5 states to file consumer grievances
While identity theft is something to be concerned about year-round, it’s especially a time to be concerned with tax filing season nearing. Last year, the FTC got nearly 160,000 such complaints, or 100,000 more than in 2013. An identity thief with the right information has the ability to file a tax return in your name, getting a bogus refund before you even know it.
Georgia was among the states that has seen a surge in potentially fraudulent tax returns being filed through TurboTax. According to The Wall Street Journal, such complaints led the FBI last month to open an investigation into whether a data breach paved the way for scam artists attempting to steal tax refunds.
Make sure to be wary of any services that make filing a return extremely easy particularly if they offer the use of mobile or tablet applications that may have inferior privacy protections or security policies. You should make sure to do a thorough investigation of any tax preperation service prior to using it.
Another scam that identity thieves run related to tax-season is to call a consumer and pretend to be the IRS. The con artist will typically have your social security number, as well as other personal information about you, to help them with impersonating the IRS. They will tell you that taxes are owed and threaten arrest if you don’t pay up.
In such a situation, you should be suspicious. If you actually do owe taxes, you will get notification first via snail mail. And you won’t be asked to wire money or pay with a debit card, but instead will be asked to contact your local IRS office.
If you think or know that you have been a victim of identity theft, you should look to take the following steps immediately. You may also want to consider doing a social security background check which can help pinpoint whether your identity has been stolen, and if so, will help you with what steps you need to take to reclaim your identity.