Identity theft hits Black community hard
Learn prevention methods
There are many Americans who may think that identity theft is on the decline due to greater vigilance and swift government action. Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to Los Angeles consumer lawyer David Ramsey, the opposite is happening. Identity theft is on the rise, and African Americans, in particular, are being victimized by this nation-wide fast-rising crime.
“Logically,” Ramsey speculated, “we can attribute this to the current economy. If people need to make money, and decide to do so unethically, identity theft is the logical opportunity.”
According to Ramsey, whose specialty is exposing credit and tax fraud, instances of the crime increased 11 percent from 2008 to 2009 altering the lives of more than 10 million Americans. “If these numbers prove to be a pattern,” he warns, “one in every 20 Americans risks being a victim in 2010.” And those numbers indicate that it could get worse over time, the attorney said.
Additionally, the chances for being a victim of this crime is greater for young adults and small business owners. “This is because in these groups, people tend to engage in riskier activities that can lead them to be victimized more frequently,” the attorney said.
Improper use of checkbooks and credit or debit cards, after a wallet or pocketbook is lost or stolen, remains, the most common catalyst of identity theft.
Based on research by Equifax, 43 percent of all incidents can be traced to this cause. “About 25 percent of victims had their Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) compromised on ATM cards,” said Linda Hector, Equifax credit counselor. “Online fraud was responsible for 11 percent of these cases.”
Most likely victims are those people ages 35-44 and those whose annual income is more than $75,000. Ethnically, African Americans are the biggest group violated followed by Latinos, Caucasians, and Asians, according to Ramsey. “The Internet plays a huge role in the ID theft process,” Ramsey said. “Certain scams on the Internet, where people get e-mails that ask for key personal information (e.g., Social Security numbers, birthdays, residential address, etc.), are all an ID thief needs to open a new account in someone else’s name or make changes to existing accounts.”
Unfortunate turn of events such as these can lead to an undeserved decline in one’s credit score. “This has been especially detrimental to various members of the Black community,” Ramsey lamented. “Particularly the young Black man or woman who has just graduated college. When these young people are applying for loans to get a house, purchase a car, or whatever other endeavor they are looking to get into, their credit score is adversely affected, and they don’t know what happened.”
Although there are options and means for people to get their credit corrected after being victimized by identity theft, Ramsey advises that it is a long process to “clean up the dirty work of scam artists.” Hector added that preventing ID theft from happening should start when a person turns 18. “When an individual gets into college, especially,” the credit counselor encourages, “sign up with an identity theft protection company. This is a vehicle that can include credit monitoring, fraud detection, database monitoring, address change notifications, and a lock on their credit file.”
Ramsey agrees with Hector and offers further advice.
“If you do become a victim of identity theft,” Ramsey suggests, “immediately notify your bank and the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. The credit bureaus will put a fraud alert on your account. If your checkbook was used or stolen, your bank will recommend you close your account. This can be a lot of work, especially if you pay your bills online. The faster you act when you see signs of identity theft, the less work you will ultimately need to do to clean it up and the less money you will lose.”
Avoiding identity theft can be difficult. However, there are methods that can make it much harder for thieves to get access to an individual’s vital personal information. Ramsey and Hector offered the following steps to take:
• Do not give your Social Security number to anyone who calls you, unless you know the caller and were expecting the call.
• Do not give any personal identifying information on social networking websites and in chat room discussions. Always be sure to verify the identity of the person asking for the information.
• Keep your sensitive documents secure. “A safe deposit box at your bank is your best bet,” Ramsey says.
• Shred any documents you want to throw out that have account numbers or other identifying information on them.
• Choose hard-to-guess passwords and PINs. “Most people use part of their name or a pet’s name,” Hector commented. “People have to be more creative than that. Also, change up your passwords and PINs so you aren’t using the same ones on different accounts.”