Feldman, Kramer & Monaco, P.C. | Recommended Steps to Follow When Addressing Issues of Identity Theft
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Recommended Steps to Follow When Addressing Issues of Identity Theft

September 2021 | Steven Kramer, Esq.
Identity theft cases in New York State grew by 85% from 2019 to 2020 during the pandemic, according to the Federal Trade Commission. With that in mind, the following steps are recommended to take if you have been the victim of this insidious crime.
 
1. File a report with the appropriate organizations. Contact your local police precinct to file a report. You should then contact the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 877-382-4357 or visit consumer.ftc.gov. to report the fraud that occurred.
 
2. Notify the three (3) major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian & TransUnion). This will allow you to flag your files with fraud alerts, place creditors on notice that you have been a victim of identity theft or fraud, and require creditors and lenders to affirmatively verify your identity prior to opening or changing an account in your name.

An initial fraud alert is available for one year at no charge and may be extended by the credit bureaus for seven years (if the victim provides a police or FTC complaint number). This will also result in removing you from credit card and insurance offers for five years.

In addition, active military personnel can request placement of an active-duty alert with the credit bureaus for one year at no charge to help prevent identity theft or fraud while deployed. The New York State Attorney General’s Office lists the following fraud helplines to contact these credit bureaus: 
 
  • Equifax (800-525-6285); 
  • Experian (888-397-3742); and 
  • TransUnion (800-680-7289).
 
3. Obtain a free credit report from each of these credit reporting companies when placing the fraud alert on your file. As a victim of a fraud, you are entitled to one (1) free credit report for an initial fraud alert or two (2) free credit reports for an extended fraud alert from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies during a twelve (12) month period.

It is important to review your credit reports to determine if there has been any unauthorized activity; you should also regularly examine these reports over the next year to ensure that no new fraudulent or unauthorized activity has occurred.

The free credit reports acquired in connection with an initial or extended fraud alert are separate from the free annual report to which you are also entitled. While there are many websites that offer free credit reports, the official site to request them is available at AnnualCreditReport.com.

4. Contact banks and credit card companies where you maintain accounts. This will allow you to request a fraud alert and/or to advise said financial companies of the breach of personal information. You should review current and older credit card and bank statements for any unauthorized charges that you don't recognize. Identity thieves may start with charges or withdrawals as small as one dollar ($1.00) to test the waters.  Make sure to also review dormant or infrequently used accounts. If you find unknown charges, contact the financial institution to alert them of the problem and request the account be locked or closed.

5. Be aware of “phishing.” A phishing or email-based attack is a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity. Phishing attacks fall into 4 categories: 
 
  • Emails that impersonate a brand;
  • Emails that impersonate a trusted individual;
  • Emails that mimic a well-known domain; and
  • Emails from accounts that have been compromised (i.e., a cybercriminal has hacked into your friend’ email account).

The best form of defense against phishing is to be alert and never give out sensitive information unless you can be sure you trust to whom you are giving the information.


6. Reset and use strong passwords. There is a good reason that websites often make you create a strong password when you sign up. That is because one of the ways cybercriminals hack into people’s accounts is by trying common number-letter combinations. The longer your password and the more numbers, letters, and symbols it contains, the harder it is for your accounts to be hacked.  For the same reason, it is a good idea to change passwords on a regular basis.

7. Consider adding comprehensive anti-virus protection on your devices. It is also important to comply with updates on your mobile devices, tablets, laptops and/or desktop computers to help prevent data breaches by hackers who capitalize on outdated systems. Smartphone antivirus apps are available to protect your phone from malware. It is also recommended that your mobile device remain locked to avoid unwanted access.

8. Consider purchasing an ID theft protection service. The best identity theft protection companies monitor your credit card transactions and credit score while scouring social media and the dark web for evidence that your personal information has been stolen or misused. In terms of recourse, these services offer reimbursement (usually up to $1 million), coverage for attorneys and experts, and identity restoration specialists to help you with restoring your identity and/or credit.

In recent months, our office has received numerous calls concerning Unemployment Insurance (UI) fraud, in which unknown individuals utilize personal information (perhaps gained from a date breach) to file fraudulent unemployment claims. The FBI is actively investigating complaints, which are not limited to New York State.

 If you have been the victim of unemployment insurance fraud, you are advised to contact the New York State Department of Labor at 888-469-7365.

If you have any questions about the information discussed in this article, please contact your Legal Service Plan’s National Legal Office at 800-292-8063.