JOLIET – If you are the victim of identity theft, the attorney general’s office can help you.
“But it’s so much easier to take steps to prevent you from being the victim of a scam than try to clean up [your credit rating] afterward,” Lisa Madigan told members of the Rotary Club of Joliet during a meeting Tuesday at Hollywood Casino in Joliet.
Madigan, who is running for her fourth term, said 200,000 people call her office each year to complain about various types of fraud, including identity theft, and about 25,000 file complaints.
“[Examples are] you attempted a purchase. You gave money to someone. Nobody came to fix the roof. They came once and never came back,” Madigan said. The attorney general’s office is expected to resolve those complaints, sometimes through criminal investigation or lawsuits.
But not every case is going to be resolved.
“If you’ve sent money to a foreign country [as part of a scam], you’re never getting it back. We don’t have the resources,” Madigan said.
Madigan said the last decade has seen the biggest growth in identity theft complaints.
“Since 2005, 4,000 data breaches have occurred and 800 million records have been compromised. There aren’t 800 million people in the country. If you haven’t been a victim yet, it’s just a matter of time,” she said.
When criminals have identifiers like Social Security numbers and passwords, they’ll use it to either take money from accounts or open new accounts, which won’t be paid. Madigan said many people notice this fraud when they need to use their credit to make a major purchase.
“Keeping an eye on your credit is the best thing you can do to avoid getting ripped off,” Madigan said. The attorney general is also skeptical of advertisements that market identity security.
“I wouldn’t pay for services that are really things you can do yourself,” she said.
While Madigan emphasized personal effort, she said her office frequently finds companies that have your private information need to improve security.
“We find all the time they haven’t encrypted the data, keep it longer than needed or fail to update their software. They’re not doing all they can,” she said.
PROTECT YOUR IDENTITYTo reduce the risk of identity theft:
1. Put a transaction alert on your credit or debit cards. If you get annoyed getting a message after buying coffee everyday, set a higher notification requirement.
2. Read your bank and credit card statements monthly. Most people don’t take the time to review, and it can be the first chance they have to dispute a potentially fraudulent charge.
3. The three major credit companies are required to provide a free credit report once a year. Go to annualcreditreport.com to request yours and review it.
4. Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. It can be removed if you do need to make major purchases, but prevents fraudulent accounts from being opened with your information.
5. If you have concerns call the attorney general’s identity theft hotline at 866-999-5630.
Source: Tips provided by Attorney General Lisa Madigan