NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2008
Texas Fights Identity Theft Online
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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Do not let the title of this column fool you. While the information presented may be Texas centric, it applies equally to residents all across the country. While this column will be presenting the new identity theft website of the Texas Attorney General, it is fortunately far from unique, as the Attorneys General of several other states offer similar services and websites. Most of the forms presented in this column can be used by the residents of any state, and are not just limited to Texans.

Identity theft is endemic, with reports of over 10 million victims nationwide annually, and costs to businesses and consumers an estimated $46 billion. In our souring economy, the incidence of identity theft is actually increasing as criminals take even more advantage of a more fiscally vulnerable population.

In order to help protect Texans, and fight the incidence of identity theft in the state, Attorney General Abbott recently announced a new initiative in Texas. A key part of this initiative is a new website, http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov. The website states, “Identity theft is one of the nation's fastest-growing, most expensive criminal enterprises. Every year more than 25,000 Texans report being victims of identity theft with thousands more unaware that their information and bank accounts have been targeted. Identity thieves use stolen information to obtain new credit cards; open checking accounts; make long distance or collect calls; or make purchases on a stolen credit card. Think it can't happen to you? Think again. Take action! Don't let your good name be ruined by swindlers.”

At the heart of this new website are the six steps necessary to prevent and fight identity theft. The six steps, each hyperlinked to a detailed explanation, are: 1. Stop ongoing damage; 2. Report ID theft crime; 3. Fill out ID theft affidavits; 4. Prevent further ID theft abuse; 5. Monitor your credit report; 6. Declare that you are a victim. In addition to the six numbered hyperlinks is another link to “Download the complete ID theft victim’s toolkit”, which connects to http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov/pdfs/IDTheft_kit.pdf.

Step 1 says, “Close all bank, credit, utility and service accounts that have been fraudulently opened or compromised. Request that a fraud alert or security freeze be placed on your credit report to stop new accounts from being fraudulently opened in your name.” Details are presented to explain the proper procedures to close credit accounts, and how to implement fraud alerts from the three major credit reporting agencies. When a fraud alert is placed on your credit listing, you should also be entitled to a copy of your credit report from that credit reporting agency. If you are not offered one, the consumer should request one. If a consumer desires to monitor his credit report himself, he can get free annual credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies at http://www.annualcreditreport.com. Unlike some highly advertised competitors, annualcreditreport.com is legitimately free, and entails no contracts, monthly fees, or other obligations. If any of the victim’s checks were compromised or stolen, various check approval services are listed on the left margin of the page. The website states, “If your checks have been misused, contact the check verification companies listed to the left and ask them to alert retailers to your situation. Each check verification company can ask retailers who use their databases to refuse any checks with compromised account numbers.”

Step 2 tells the victim to “Report Identity Theft Crime to Your Local Law Enforcement Agency”. In addition to reporting the crime to your local law enforcement agency, the victim should also ask for a copy of the police report and case number. Unlike in the past, in Texas, a peace officer must take a written identity theft report, and make a copy available to the victim (Chapter 32.51 of the Penal Code). There are similar laws in most other states.

The third step is to report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) using the report link on the top edge of its website at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft, or by calling its identity theft hotline at (877)ID-THEFT. Once the crime is reported to the FTC, the victim should fill out the FTC affidavit which is available on the FTC Identity Theft website, or from the Attorney General’s Office at http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov/pdfs/affidavit.pdf. The affidavit may be accepted by credit bureaus and creditors as a substitute for a police report.

The next step, number four, says, “Prevent Further Identity Theft Abuse by Contacting the Following Agencies: Local Texas Department of Public Safety Driver License Office (or state police or drivers’ license authority in other states); the Social Security Administration (SSA); the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the U.S. Passport Agency. These notifications are necessary, because (according to the website), “An identity thief might use your personal information to fraudulently obtain a driver's license, file for bankruptcy, apply for Social Security benefits or even get a passport.”

Step five says “Monitor Your Credit Report to Thwart Continued Identity Theft Abuses”. The Attorney General references the free annual credit reporting service where consumers are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting services every year. For these free reports, contact: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105283, Atlanta, GA 30348-5283, or phone toll-free (877) 322-8228. Free credit reports are also available online at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.

The final step, number 6, says to declare yourself as a victim by stating, “If Necessary, File an Application with Your State District Court Requesting a Court Order Declaring That You are a Victim of Identity Theft.” On the website the user can obtain an “Application Requesting Declaration that the Applicant is a Victim of Identity Theft” from the OAG ID Theft Web site at http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov/pdfs/CourtOrder.pdf. The victim should file the application with your district court and request a hearing date. “Appear in court on the specified date and submit evidence proving you are a victim of identity theft. … This is allowed under the Texas Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act, found in Chapter 48 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code.” The Attorney General also suggests that the victim keeps an accurate and contemporary telephone log of everyone that he has contacted. To facilitate this process, there is a detailed telephone log available at http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov/pdfs/call_log.pdf.

According to a report commissioned a few years ago by the FTC (the Synovate report), almost 5% of us were victimized in the past year by identity thieves, and about one-eighth of us have been victimized in the past five years, whether we know it or not. This website is a treasure trove of valuable information that we can use to help prevent our victimization, and deal with the effects of being a victim, if we were unfortunate enough to become one. This site is very worthy of review by all.

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