By: Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist
September 11, 2013
The S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs is your consumer protection agency with 38 years of service. It is their mission to aid and protect consumers by acting as an effective regulator; providing complaint mediation services for both consumers and small businesses through insurance rate filings intervention, and serving as an educational portal for consumers and businesses.
Over the last three years SCDCA recovered $7.1 million in the form of refunds, credits and adjustments; processed nearly 16,000 consumer complaints through cost effective mediation, taking a large load off the court system; conducted 1,000 reviews and inspections while overseeing more than 15 industries including pawnbrokers, mortgage brokers and credit counseling; and over the last five years SCDCA has saved consumers and businesses $164 million through insurance rate filing intervention.
Martha (Marti) Phillips, director of the Identify Theft Unit at SC Department of Consumer Affairs, is an attorney and well-qualified to expend her legal education and experiences to aid and protect both consumers and small businesses.
Phillips names identity theft as the fastest growing white-collar crime.
“This crime is rampant in U.S. and growing in South Carolina. More than 10 million Americans fall victim to Identity Theft each year,” she said.
ID Theft can happen to you when thieves get information in a variety of ways: lost or stolen paycheck stubs; bogus bank/IRS forms, discarded or stolen duplicate checks, address change forms, passports, and stolen ATM/check credit cards.
To minimize your risk, shred unnecessary documents, account information, receipts. Don’t give your information to unfamiliar people or businesses. Don’t use your private information as identifiers. Check your credit report at least once a year for inaccuracies, new accounts and changes in name and address.
There are three credit reporting agencies to check credit report and also to place, thaw or lift a freeze.
Equifax — 800-685-1111 (automated line – press 3); Equifax Security Freeze, PO Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian — 888-397-3742 (automated line, press 2; 2 for Fraud Prevention, press 2 for Security Freeze; Experian Security Freeze, PO Box 9954, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion — 800-680-7289 (automated line press 3); TransUnion, LLC, PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834
When using the mail-in option, it’s recommended to send the latter certified mail, return-receipt requested.
Common ways thieves use your identity
Medical identity theft: If an identity thief receives treatment in your name, their medical information — like blood type, test results or allergies — can get into your medical file. If you find someone has used your medical information: contact each health care provider and ask for copies for your medical records; review your records and report errors to your health care provider; notify your health insurer and all 3 credit reporting agencies.
Misuse of Social Security Number: An identity thief may steal your SSN and sell it, or use the number to get a job or other benefits. Contact the Social Security Administration when you discover any misuse of your Social Security number. (800-269 -0271) Social Security Administration, Fraud Hotline, PO Box 17785, Baltimore, MD 21235 )
Tax Fraud: If you think someone has used your SSN to get a job or tax refund or the IRS sends you a notice indicating a problem, contact the IRS immediately: IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit: (800-908-4490), report the fraud and request the IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039; send a copy of your police report and proof of identity (i.e. copy of driver’s license) Fraud Hotline, PO Box 17785, Baltimore, MD 21135.
Fake Check Scams are clever ploys to steal your money. You can avoid being a victim by recognizing how the scam works and understanding your responsibility for the checks that you deposit in your account. Scammers hunt for victims by scamming newspapers, online advertisements listing items for sale, check online job sites from people seeking employment.
They place their own ads with phone numbers or email addresses for people to contact them knowing that some will take the bait. Fake checks appear in mailboxes on a regular basis promising financial returns. Regardless of who, what, where, when or why — never try to cash an unsolicited check received in the mail.
For more information, visit www.consumer.sc.gov and click on “Identity Theft Resources” or call 1-800-922-1594.