Identity theft is a serious crime that occurs when your personal information is stolen. That information can be used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes that have an impact on your financial security. Thieves can also use your information to ruin your good name, steal your medical history, take away your sense of safety, or misuse images of you.
The good news is that the number of identity fraud cases has gradually decreased in recent years. Still, the total cost of identity theft to society is enormous. In 2006, the total cost was $49 billion dollars, with victims losing about $ 4.5 billion, and companies and banks paying the rest. The business loss drives up business costs, causing consumers to pay again, indirectly.
The average victim spends about 600 hours trying to restore his or her identity. Though most victims are discovering the abuse earlier, it now takes longer on average to eliminate fraudulent transactions from credit reports and other sources than ever before. Having your identity stolen may also be very difficult emotionally: feelings of violation, powerlessness, and frustration may feel overwhelming. You can find help in coping with ID theft from the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Risk of identity theft by age
Eighteen to twenty-nine year-olds are particularly at risk because they are less likely to check their credit and are more likely to apply for credit cards without reading the fine print or considering the source.
The prevailing attitude among teens and college students is that if they don’t have money in their bank account, there’s nothing to steal. Unfortunately, what matters isn't just how much you have in your bank account; it's how far in debt the thief can place you by using your information to apply for loans or purchase expensive items. In fact, a criminal is likely to leave the money in your checking account so you aren’t alerted to what’s taking place when you check your bank balance.
Victims of identity theft are vulnerable to future attacks
Even when you have gone through all the steps to restore your identity and financial standing you will remain at increased risk of a recurrence because much of your ‘identity’ doesn’t change. You can change your credit card account, close your bank account, or fix a manipulated credit history, but your birth date, birth place, mother’s maiden name, your past employers, and other personal information never changes. This information is likely to remain in criminal databases and be reused many times. Once a victim you will need to be extra diligent in monitoring your identity forever.
Reduce the risk of identity theft
There are many significant steps you can take to protect yourself, but there is no silver bullet or magic solution, especially as you may not be the one exposing your information. Publically-available property tax records, court records, and housing records all make finding information about you easier.
Follow these steps to keep yourself safe from ID thieves:
- Everyone above the age of 14 needs to actively monitor his or her credit history. You have the right to one FREE credit disclosure in a twelve-month period from each of the three national credit reporting companies:TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. The easiest way to get these reports is through AnnualCreditReport.com, a service created by these three credit institutions specifically to help consumers get free annual reports. You can also pay credit monitoring services to watch your account for you.
- Consider if you want all, part, or none of your information viewable in online directory searches. It usually costs money to keep your information private (often referred to as a privacy tax) but the few dollars it costs may be well worth it to you.
- If your identity has been stolen, contact your bank(s) and other financial institutions immediately. Contact local law enforcement and file a report, as well as your insurance company. Freeze your credit with the three credit reporting companies listed above.
- If you are a victim of identity theft, go to the FTC's Identity Theft Web site to get information about additional steps you may need to take.
- If your reputation or images have been stolen, contact the Web site where the abuse occurred and where the material is displayed. They should work with you to take it down and discipline the offender.
- Identity theft victims should alert their friends and family. Your identity theft means friends and family may also be affected, depending on the information stolen or abused.
What is the Montana Law regarding Identity Theft and Security Breaches?
Montana’s Identity Theft Act (HB 732) requires businesses to notify individuals when a security breach results in their personal information being released to unauthorized parties if that breach causes or is reasonably believed to cause loss or injury to a Montana resident. The Act specifies the notification steps businesses must follow in the event of a security breach. Additionally, the Act specifies that Montana businesses must take reasonable steps to destroy customer records no longer needed that contain personal information by “shredding, erasing, or otherwise modifying the personal information”. The Act came into full effect March 1, 2006.
Who is affected?
This Act affects all businesses that conduct business in Montana and that store personal information of state residents. Personal information is defined as the first name or initial and last name in combination with one or more of the following nonpublic, unencrypted pieces of information: a social security number, a driver’s license number or state identification card number, a financial account number, credit card or debit card number accompanied by the applicable passwords or security codes.
What does the Identity Theft Act have to do with information management?
According to the Act, Montana businesses are responsible for the security of their computerized and non-computerized customer records. If companies experience
a security breach and disclose personal information to unauthorized parties, and if the breach has caused loss or injury or is reasonably believed to cause loss or injury to a Montana resident, companies are responsible for notifying the affected individuals. By monitoring and controlling the amount of customer data held on site in computerized form, businesses can reduce the risk of losing or otherwise releasing data to unauthorized parties. Computer backups containing personal information that are no longer needed should be disposed of securely. Similarly, other computerized mediums containing personal information, such as CDs, computer disks, and hard drives, should be destroyed once no longer needed. Additionally, all non-computerized customer records containing personal information should also be destroyed completely once no longer needed.
What do companies have to do to comply with the Act?
Businesses must alert affected Montana residents when computerized personal information which is not publicly available is acquired, or is reasonably believed to have been acquired, by unauthorized parties and loss or injury has occurred or is reasonably believed to occur. Methods for notifying affected individuals are outlined in the Act. If the cost of notifying affected individuals is more than $250,000, or if the number of affected individuals exceeds 500,000, or if there is insufficient contact information for the affected individuals, substitute notification methods may be followed. According to the Act, businesses must also securely dispose of non-computerized customer records containing personal information that is no longer necessary to be retained by the business by “shredding, erasing, or otherwise modifying the personal information in those records to make it unreadable or undecipherable.” Additionally, if a business discloses a security breach to any individual and gives a notice to that individual that suggests, indicates, or implies that the individual may obtain a copy of the file on the individual from a consumer credit reporting agency, then the business must coordinate with the consumer reporting agency as to the timing, content, and distribution of the notice to the affected individuals. Monetary penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation may be imposed on businesses that violate this Act.
How can we help?
Safeguard your customer’s confidential information with Shred-it’s document destruction services. Shred-it securely destroys all of your confidential materials including computerized data such as CD-ROMs/CD-Rs/DVDs and computer back-up. Upon completion of the shredding service, Shred-it provides a Certificate of Destruction – your record of the secure destruction process. For peace of mind, contact Shred-it today at 1 800 69-Shred.
For more information:
Montana State Legislature - http://leg.mt.gov/css/default.asp
This does not constitute a legal opinion or legal advice. Do not rely on any of the information in this document without first obtaining legal advice.
Montana's Identity Theft Passport Program
An Identity Theft Passport is designed to help victims prove to creditors and law enforcement officers that someone has used their identity to commit fraud.
Through no fault of their own, victims of identity theft are forced to spend a considerable amount of time and money undoing the damage done to their good names and credit records. The wallet-sized passport is designed to help victims prove who they are and limit the cost and stress they experience.
To qualify for a passport, identity theft victims must file a police report with a Montana law enforcement agency and present a completed Identity Theft Passport application with a photo ID to the investigating agency. Once the complaint has been verified by law enforcement, the agency faxes or mails to Montana's Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services:
- a copy of the completed investigation report
- the Identity Theft Passport application, signed by the victim and the officer
- a copy of the victim's driver license or other official form of photo identification
Once the victim and law enforcement have provided all of the necessary information, the passport should be issued within 10 working days. Passports expire after three years.
The passport application and supporting documentation is confidential criminal justice information. Law enforcement agencies and creditors have discretion in accepting an identity theft passport. The passport simply indicates that the agency or company should take into consideration that the individual is a victim of identity theft.
Office of Consumer Protection
2225 11th Avenue
P.O. Box 200151
Helena, MT 59620-0151Phone: (800) 481-6896 or (406) 444-4500
Fax: (406) 444-9680