Government website will provide customized recovery plans for identity theft victims: Internet Scambusters #695
The Federal Trade Commission has delivered on a Presidential directive that identity theft victims should be able to get all the help they need from a single online source.
By providing details of a crime to a government website, victims will now be able to get guidance tailored to their specific needs, as well as ready-made letters and forms to notify relevant organizations.
We have the details in this week's issue, together with news of an alarming variation in the virtual kidnap scam we reported on a few weeks back.
Before we begin, you may want to spend a moment looking at this week's most popular articles from our other sites:
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Now, here we go...
New Program Will Aid Identity Theft Recovery
Identity theft remains unchanged as the number 1 scam in North America but that doesn't mean the way we respond to it -- specifically identity theft recovery -- is also unchanged.
Alongside anti-crime initiatives and widespread publicity to make consumers aware of the danger, a new program has just been launched to help victims recover from the after-effects of the crime.
This couldn't come soon enough because, as we've previously reported, the fallout from ID theft can be more agonizing and prolonged than the financial losses that result from it.
In some cases, it can take victims months or even years to put everything back in place, especially with credit agencies.
And, as tax season draws to a close after what is likely to have been a record year for tax ID fraud, the arrival of the new program has come just in time.
Way back in 2014, President Obama reflected mounting concern about the crime when he issued an executive order calling for a single site dealing with the crime, with all essential information easily available.
The main component of the new program, announced recently by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is the ability for victims to get a free, personalized identity theft recovery plan.
It's available through the government's IdentityTheft.gov site, with features including a checklist targeting the specific type of identity theft an individual has experienced.
The new site is being integrated with the FTC's consumer complaint system. After providing details of the crime, victims receive advice customized to their individual needs.
When a victim initiates a complaint, the site automatically generates affidavits and pre-fill letters and forms that have to be sent to the credit bureaus, banks, police, debt collectors, the IRS and businesses.
And if the victim encounters difficulties, the site will even suggest further strategies.
Then, once the complaint filing is complete, victims receive follow-up emails to check on their progress. Their personalized plan is stored online and can be referred to and amended as required.
There's also a Spanish version of the site -- RobodeIdentidad.gov. Users can view the affidavits and other forms in Spanish but English prints-outs are generated for letters that need to be sent out to others.
The FTC received around half a million consumer complaints about identity theft last year -- an increase of 47% from the prior year. This year is likely to be even higher.
But even this is likely just the tip of an iceberg. Many crimes are unreported or even undetected and the U.S. Department of Justice says around 17.6 million Americans fell victim in 2014 alone.
"Millions of Americans have been victims of identity theft, and until now, there has not been a single site where they can quickly file an official complaint and then get real, personalized help," says FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.
"The FTC's new IdentityTheft.gov website empowers consumers to fight back faster and more effectively against identity thieves."
The program has been welcomed by law enforcement and state governments.
"Identitytheft.gov is a vital resource as identity theft has reached epidemic levels," says Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
"As most Americans know, we live in an age when it's not a matter of if, but when you will become a victim of identity theft.
"The FTC's website is a great place for consumers to go for practical and personalized help to recover from the financial mess created by identity theft."
And Mary Gavin, Chief of Police for Falls Church, Virginia, and an Executive Committee member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, comments: "IdentityTheft.gov will be a powerful tool to help police assist victims, and the information victims report to the FTC can help law enforcers build cases."
The Commission has produced a short video, explaining how the identity theft recovery program works.
The FTC also produces a wealth of educational materials and downloads for consumer, law enforcement agencies and businesses on how to prevent identity theft.
And don't forget to check out our own guidance via the Scambusters website. Just hit the search icon and type "identity theft" in the box.
Alert of the Week
Only weeks after reporting an FBI alert about phony kidnapping and ransom scams, the crime has taken a terrible turn.
We've received reports from several states, including Oregon, California, Idaho and New Jersey, about scammers phoning parents, claiming they've kidnapped their young child and aggressively demanding immediate payment of a ransom.
Victims report hearing the terrifying sound of a child screaming in the background as the scammer delivers his pay-now demand.
Trying to prevent the parent from checking if their child has really been kidnapped or is actually still wherever they're supposed to be, the crook insists the victim stays on their cellphone while they get the cash and wire it to them.
If you receive one of these calls, be aware it could be a scam -- but we can't provide legal advice on what to do. Check out our earlier report, FBI Alert as Virtual Kidnap Scams Rise, which includes FBI guidance.
Also, check out the police guidance in this report from Oregon.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!