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Most consumers have heard of the term “identity theft,” but what does it really mean?

Are there different types of identity theft? Who is most likely to be a victim and what should they do about it?

What are the penalties in Ohio for those convicted of the crime?

What is “identity theft?”

According to the Ohio Attorney General’s(OAG)website on this topic,ohioattorneygeneral.gov, ”identity theft” occurs when”someone obtains and uses your personal information without your permission to commit a fraud.” Commonly, a person’s Social Security number, birth date, and other personal information is used to open fraudulent accounts creating a fake identity.

Identity information can also be used to gain access to resources such as credit and benefits, including tax benefits. Identity theft is a state and federal crime. If you are a victim, you need to report the theft to your local police and The Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection unit which has a Theft Unit specifically to help deal with the effects of this crime.

In Ohio, a “data breach” occurs when private information becomes public. This is not considered identity theft because information may have been obtained andnot been used, according to the OAG site. But a 2014 Identity Fraud Study conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research, indicated a data breach makes one much more likely to suffer identity fraud. In 2013, one in three became fraud victims, according to Javelin’s study. Victims of a data breach are advised to alert their banks and credit card issuers and to consider placing a “90-day initial fraud alert”on their credit report. To place an alert contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies who will share the information with the other two agencies. The agencies are:

  • Equifax: 800-525-6285 (equifax.com)
  • Experian: 888-397-3742 (experian.com)
  • TransUnion: 800-680-7289 (transunion.com)

Are there different types of identity theft?

As previously mentioned, there is Financial Identity Theft in which someone tries to obtain credit, goods, or services by stealing credit card or bank account numbers.

Medical Identity Theft is when someone uses another’s identity to obtain medical care or drugs.

When someone uses another person’sinformation to obtain insurance coverage or benefits, this is Insurance Identity Theft. For example, someone may open an insurance policy using someone else’s identification. This is often intertwined with Medical or Financial Identity Theft.

In some instances, various data elements are used to create a synthetic or fake person. This is known as Synthetic Identity Theft.The problem is the fake person can cause problems for real people which were used to create the synthetic identity. If someone used a person’s information to obtain a driver’s license, this is Driver’s License Identity Theft. This can cause considerable problems for the original licensee.

When someone who is being investigated or apprehended for a crime poses as another person, this is Criminal Identity Theft. The imposter will give another person’s name and personal information to law enforcement and an innocent person could be wrongly accused of a crime.

Use of another’s social security number is a common fraud and is known as Social Security Identify Theft. Children’s social security numbers are also frequently stolen for various fraudulent uses. If your child has a social security number, itis a good idea to request their credit report to monitor this type of identity theft.

Who is most likely to experience identity theft?

Several different studies have attempted to answer this question by looking at gender, age, race, income and geographic location of the identity theft victim. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey, gender identity theft victimization was about equal but ages of victims varied.

Those aged 16 to 17 and those 18 to 24-year-old experienced a low volume of identity theft as did persons over 65 years of age, the BJS study found. Javelin’s Strategy and Research 2014 Identity Fraud Study revealed the 35 to 44-year-old age group was most at risk for identity theft (Javelin referred to this group as “middle-aged.”) BJS found 35 to 49-year-olds experienced the greatest incidence of ID theft.

Another study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) showed 20 to 29-year-olds had the highest risk of identity theft. They based these results on complaints to the agency. The studies also noted that college-age members of the population may receive mail in unsecured mailboxes or their social security number is used as an ID or to publicly post grades. The FTC claims students are also at risk if they put too much personal information online, or use public computers to shop or pay bills or leave laptops unsecured in classrooms or dorms.

Older people (50 and older) may also be at higher risk of identity theft if they have caregivers with access to their information. The latter group may be at risk for Medical Identity Theft if they have frequent interaction with the healthcare system.

There were no significant higher rates of fraud attributed to race, but those who earn $75,000or more annually were found to be at higher risk, according to the BJS survey. This was primarily attributed to the fact that those with higher incomes generally have more credit cards.

The FTC reports five states to have the most identity thefts per 100,000 residents. They are Florida, Georgia, California, Michigan, and Nevada. Metropolitan areas reporting the most identity thefts were:

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fla.; Columbus, Ga.; Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Fla.; Jonesboro, Ar. and Tallahassee, Fla.

Those cities reporting the fewest identity thefts were: Modesto, Ca.; Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.; Henderson-Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev.; Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Il. and Killeen-Temple, Tex.

How many Americans report experiencing identity theft?

According to an FTC study, there were 2 million consumer complaints to the agency in 2013 and 14%, or 280,000, concerned identity theft. One-third were related to government documents or benefits and 17% were credit card fraud complaints. Utility fraud and bank fraud were next highest on the list of complaints.

Victims reported to these agencies that the loss of time they experienced in trying to correct the identity theft was the most serious repercussion. Some report it took longer than a year. Others told the agencies they resolved the problem in a day or less. Trusted ID, a website sponsored by Equifax, a company which sells identity theft protection services, claims the average victim spends more than 500 hours and $5,000 to restore his or her good name after an identity theft.

Two-thirds of victims had no idea how their information was stolen. They learned about it when a financial institution contacted them. Consumer Reports notes 80% of identity theft is theft of a credit card or debit card number. Due to fraud protection provided by many financial institutions, there is often no personal liability for the unauthorized transactions.

On a statewide level, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office reported that the FTC, the three major credit bureaus and the OAGrankedOhio 24thand 26thof the 50 states in Fraud and Identity Theftcomplaintsby victims. The rankings were by city and by the Largest Metropolitan City Area. Columbus ranked highest of Ohio cities with 10,120 reported complaints and losses of more than $12 million.

What is the penalty if a person is found guilty of identity theft?

According to Ohio Revised Code 2913.49, for the most minor offenses of identity fraud and those in which there is no actual financial loss to the victim, it is a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to six to twelve months in prison. If the value of the credit, property, services, debt, or other legal obligation involved in the violation or course of conduct is $1,000 or more and is less than $7,500, itis a felony of the fourth degree unless the violation involves a member of a protected class.

Aprotected class as defined in the law as an elderly person, a disabled adult, an active duty service member, or the spouse of an active duty service member. If the identity theft is a violation against a member of the protected class and is $7500or more and less than $150,000, it is a third-degree felony.

If the amount is more than $150,000 in losses or if a loss to a protected class member is between $7,500 and $150,000, identity theft is a second-degree felony punishable by two to eight years in prison. If a loss is greater than $150,000 against protected class members, the violation is a felony of the first degree. In all cases, making financial restitution to the victim can also be stipulated.

If you suspect you are an identity Theftvictimin Ohio

The Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer ProtectionSection has an Identity Theft Unit. It can be accessed at ohioattorneygeneral.gov under the Individuals and Families Consumer link. This Unit aims to help victims of identity theft deal with the effect of the theft by working with creditors, credit reporting agencies, collectors, and any other entity that may have information obtained fraudulently. The Unit currently offers two programs–Traditional Assistance and Self-Help Assistance.

Under Traditional Assistance, the victim will be assigned a consumer advocate who will reach out to various credit agencies and keep the victim informed of any progress. To be in this program you must file a police report of the theft and an Identity Theft Notification and Affidavit form with the Attorney General’s office. This form is available at the website.

Under Self-Help Assistance, the attorney general’s office will provide the consumer with a step-by-step guide which details how to make necessary contact information on their own. If this option is chosen, a consumer advocate is still assigned in the event their assistance is required

If the identity theft involved either state or federal taxes, the attorney general’s office advises the consumer to contact the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS)or the State of Ohio Department of Taxation.

Contacting an attorney

It is possible you may need additional help in straightening out your finances, especially if you have not discovered the theft in the early stages. In this case, you may seek the assistance of an identity theft lawyer, a debt settlement lawyer or a consumer protection lawyer.

There are attorneys at Slater & Zurz LLP who have considerable experience in these specialties and will advise you or your rights and remedies under state and federal law. They are located in Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Columbus and are available 24/7 through their website at [email protected].

End the days of fraudulent information being associated with the good name you have worked years to uphold. Call the firm today at 888-534-4850.

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