Attorney General talks about ID theft in Oak Lawn
For all men and women in the Southwest Suburbs, damaging and potentially devastating identity theft is not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Monday.
“What I can tell you is this: identity theft not a new problem, but it is one of the fastest growing problems that we’re seeing,” Madigan said to an audience of about 40 civic and elected leaders, law enforcement and other public safety officials, and representatives of financial institutions. The presentation by Madigan and her staff was made at the Oak Lawn Public Library.
Madigan said that in 2006, she established an identity theft unit, “a group of people who are really experts at how to prevent this, how to help [victims] clean up. So far, we’ve helped over 35,000 people in the state remove over $26 million in fraudulent charges from their credit. So that just gives you a sense of what’s taking place.”
The attorney general said that some of the increase has been driven by high-profile security breaches at major retailers.
“There was the Target breach that occurred right around the holiday shopping season, but right after that, it was Michaels, Neiman-Marcus, and then now, seriously, we hear about a new breach every single week,” she added. “Just last week, it was reported in the news that Home Depot finally confirmed that it was 56 million people’s credit card numbers had been [stolen] in the breach they suffered.”
Madigan offered her four top pieces of advice to reduce the risk of identity theft.
• Put transaction alerts on credit and debit cards, which will “let you know [via text message] if someone else has used your card,” she said. “Now, I know that can be a little annoying, because in this day and age, many of us are using our credit and debit cards 10 or 12 times a day. But you won’t be annoyed when you’re sitting in your local library and you get a text message that says that someone is at Best Buy, and they just bought a flat-screen TV in your name. What you’ll do is take out your credit card, find the toll-free number on the back, call your credit card company and say, ‘We have a problem here,’” and that way, you’ll be able to resolve that problem quickly.”
• Read bank account and credit card statements, promptly and line by line, every month—more frequently for those who bank online. “You need to make sure all the charges are accurate and that all the numbers add up,” Madigan told the group. “If there’s a problem, you call that 800 number quickly and get it resolved right away.”
• Obtain and examine copies of personal credit reports, which is especially important, Madigan said, to detect identity theft that might not otherwise be detected early. “Sometimes you don’t find out that someone has damaged your credit until you yourself go to use it,” she observed. You go to rent an apartment, you go to finance a car purchase, you go to get a mortgage—and you’re either denied because it looks as though you don’t pay your bills, or when they extend you credit, it will be at a higher rate than it should be.” She encouraged everyone to visit annualcreditreport.com online to obtain a free credit report.
• Put a freeze on personal credit reports, which “basically locks down your credit [report], so that when somebody goes to take out credit in your name, a legitimate company will not extend credit because they can’t see your report,” the attorney general said, adding that she and her husband have taken the preventive step with their credit reports.
Considerably more information was shared by Madigan’s staff after she spoke, covering a broader range of consumer fraud topics that included tips for law enforcement, as well as advice for companies that maintain customer databases.
All of the information can be found online at illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.
Madigan also encouraged everyone to call her office’s identity theft hotline at 1-866-999-5630, where she said staff members stand read to offer one-on-one advice and assistance to everyone.
Audience reaction appeared positive.
“Scams and financial crimes have always plagued our communities, but as these evolve, it’s important to stay abreast of what’s going on, so we can better protect ourselves,” said Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer, a 34-year police veteran in the village who retired as chief of patrol in 2003. “Events like these are important, and I’m grateful to Attorney General Madigan for hosting this today. The information I receive here today will help me better serve my constituents.”
Vorderer added that he has been an identity theft victim twice, and his wife, once.
“Somewhere along the line, somebody stole my financial records and then used that information to open credit card accounts in my name, charging thousands of dollars in my name, somewhere near Detroit,” he recalled. “It was inconvenient, a real headache, and it involved a lot of straightening out, to make things whole again.”
Lisa Anderson, a financial advisor from Palos Heights, said that “while none of the information was new, every bit of it was useful. This is the type of information that has to be said to people, again and again, for it to sink in so people can protect themselves. Not doing what [Madigan] said is like going on vacation and leaving your front door wide open for burglars. She gave some solid advice today, and we all need to ingrain it to protect ourselves and our families.”