You’re Not Safe In Georgia Either!
All, or at least most, of us abhor stealing, and identity theft is one of the most personal and horrific experiences that one can go through. This crime is increasing throughout the nation, including Georgia. In 2011, Georgia rose to 2nd in the nation in identity theft complaints, after being in 4th place nationally in 2010. From the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a national non-profit organization, statistics show that Georgia victim calls have risen to 3.7% of their entire case load, a significant 30% increase over previous years.
This is not a victimless crime: it usually takes years to clear your identity and costs are averaging about $10,000 per incident. Most identity thefts occur from stolen credit cards, but clever thieves have figured out how to steal your social security number and file for a tax refund. Add to this medical and prescription records, credit and financial records, fraudulent bills, and credit card accounts. Then there are muddled employment and driving records, disability claims, and arrest warrants. And the list goes on. Every aspect of your life can be affected if your identity is stolen.
Types of identity theft
The Identity Theft Resource Center currently classifies five types of identity theft:
1. Identity Cloning: the thief uses your information to assume your identity in all parts of your daily life.
2. Financial identity theft: the thief uses your identity for purchases and getting credit.
3. Medical identity theft: the thief uses your identity to acquire medical drugs or services.
4. Criminal identity theft: the thief pretends he is you when the police arrest him.
5. Child identity theft: the thief steals a child’s social security number in order to open bank and credit card accounts, apply for loans or government benefits, or rent or purchase a home.
Georgia recently had a Montgomery man indicted for stealing and using over 600 identities and more than 200 prepaid debit cards. Some of these identities were used by the thief and his accomplices to file false income tax returns, always with refunds applied to debit cards. Late spring, 2013, he was sentenced to 51 months in prison and pay restitution ($197,839) to the IRS.
In another case in spring, 2013, 12 more people were indicted for stolen identity tax fraud. The accused are charged with medical identity theft as well as conspiracy to defraud the IRS. Another 21 Georgians are also under arrest as part of a long-term investigation into this case. In each of the indictments, the people are alleged to have taken names, dates of birth, and social security numbers. They then used this information to fraudulently fill out over 115 tax forms to receive tax refunds.
Save yourself with a few simple steps
As you can see, identity theft is everywhere and if you are not careful, you can be victimized. There are a few rules that you should follow to protect your personal information. Don’t share your personal information with anyone, unless it is absolutely required. Cross-shred papers which have personal information on them. Check with the credit bureaus at least once a year to verify that nothing is going on with your credit. (One good suggestion is to contact one of the agencies each quarter to obtain your free credit report. Then, next quarter, go to the next bureau and so on. That way, you will receive 3 credit reports, each from a different source, once a year.) Monitor your information carefully on all levels (computer, paper, in offices, etc.). Use only secure internet connections, and make sure that when you purchase online, you are at a legitimate and secure business’ website (https:).
If you have not had an obvious theft of computer or credit cards, your first inkling of trouble will come when you attempt to file your income tax and find out that someone has filed before you under your social security number. Your first step at this point should be to contact the police immediately. Then you have to start the arduous task of trying to straighten things out with the IRS (forms to be filed), the credit bureaus, the credit card companies, and any other part of your life involving personal and medical information as well as the financial aspects of your life.
Most people do not realize that the theft of their identity can be used in many different ways. One of the most lucrative for the thief is to file tax returns, not only federal but also in another 43 states which don’t have safeguards against multiple filings. In other words, someone could use your personal information to scam money from a number of different states as well as the federal government. Since most states do not share information, this particular crime is difficult for officials to detect. Georgia has instituted the use of LexisNexis, a special software program, along with 4 other states. It is a monitoring system which allows Georgia to compare every single state tax filing against the state records which include employment, auto registrations, and home mortgages. Any discrepancies cause more review of the state tax return. They have caught a number of identity thefts using this system.
Victims frequently complain that even though they told the authorities and filed identity theft forms with the IRS, nothing gets done. This isn’t always true, for investigations are slow and thorough. A number of identity theft problems get solved each year. The IRS has hired an additional 3,000 agents just to deal with this problem. Because it is such a complex crime, it often takes years, if ever, to reach a solution.
If you become an identity theft victim, follow the steps above. After you have called the police, call a good tax lawyer like Jeff Fouts who is familiar with identity theft cases and hire him to represent you. This gives you the best chance of resolving this dreadful issue in the shortest amount of time.