YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Many people are concerned about their identity being stolen now that it’s tax season, but it can happen any time of the year.
Just last month, thieves tried to hack into the IRS again to file fake tax refunds, and an Anthem credit breach last year left many people vulnerable locally.
In fact, identity theft complaints to the federal government increased 47 percent last year.
The Identity Theft Unit at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office received more than 1,670 identity theft complaints in 2015, an increase of more than 300 from the previous year. It also helped victims clear more than $658,000 in fraudulent charges, according to identity-theft complaint information.
The Lazor family had their own brush with identity theft recently.
They needed a snowblower for winter and applied for credit during the purchase. That was when they found out that someone used the family’s information to take out a $5,000 loan.
The Lazors were made aware of the situation when a Payday Cash Advance lender called them about a second loan.
“This was done online, so sight unseen,” said Danielle Lazor.
The Lazors have no idea who used the information, and they didn’t lose any money, but they say the incident was a wake-up call.
Myra Allison’s story started around Christmas when she bought a cellphone.
“Customer service rep laid my debit card down, and I noticed the people sitting beside me looking,” Allison said.
She believes that those people took a picture of her debit card or memorized the number, because the next month, she saw $500 in unauthorized charges on her account. The thief made several small purchases before she noticed the discrepancies.
“It’s not going to be large purchases. It’s going to be $20, $30, something small that you don’t notice,” Allison said.
Melissa Ames, vice president of the Youngstown Better Business Bureau, said there are many ways that someone’s identity could be stolen. There is opening a new line of credit under your identity, loss of data, fraud related to utilities and the most common problem — credit card breaches.
Ames said the most important things that you can do are be aware and act fast.
“I spoke to a lady once who waited six months to report that her credit card had been stolen, and there were thousands of dollars in her name. Because she waited so long, she had a very difficult process to recoup her identity,” she said.
The Federal Trade Commission can tell you what to do if your identity is stolen. The agency has a new website in which you can report identity theft.
The agency will also send you free information.
Ohio Attorney General DeWine offered the following tips to help you protect your personal information:
- Review your privacy settings
Take time to locate the privacy setting on all of your accounts, especially your social media accounts, and decide how much you want to share with others. Update the settings as needed to limit or control what others see about you and your family members.
- Read privacy policies
- Update your passwords
To help prevent intruders from accessing your personal information, use strong passwords and change them regularly. Use a different password for each program, website, or application you use. Disable automatic login functions on websites, and do not allow your browser to “remember” passwords. Log off from websites and accounts after you are finished using them. Also, set a passcode on your phone or tablet to make it harder for someone else to gain access.
- Protect your home network
Use tools like firewalls, router and network passwords, encryption and anti-virus programs to protect your home Internet connection and ensure that only you and your family have access. Never give someone remote access to your computer based on calls or pop-up messages from people claiming to be from tech support or computer companies. Such messages are signs of a common scam. Giving callers remote access will allow them to see the files and personal information stored on your computer and may put you at risk for identity theft.
- Be careful when using free public Wi-Fi networks
If you use free public Wi-Fi, assume everyone can see what you are doing. Avoid disclosing personal information, such as logins, passwords or credit card numbers, when using public Wi-Fi. In general, limit your use to visiting websites that do not require a login or disclosure of any personal information. Also, verify the specific network name with the store, coffee shop or other Wi-Fi location before connecting to the network.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office provides cybersecurity education for consumers and organizations throughout the state. To request a Cybersecurity Help, Information and Protection Program (CHIPP) booklet or to schedule a cybersecurity presentation, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.