According to one 2012 Department of Justice study, about 8,571,900 Americans are victims of identity theft or fraud each year. This crime that’s often simply described as the fraudulent misuse of a person’s banking, credit card or other personal identity information affects approximately 7 percent of households each year. The average cost of each incident of identity theft is about $4,930 and the entire country suffers about $13.2 billion in cumulative financial losses each year.
Massachusetts headlines carry stories about identity fraud quite regularly, including one recent story about an incident in Allston. These types of stories are important because they should remind all of us to regularly monitor all of our financial transactions and stand ready to become proactive when we discover any irregularities.
Alleged Liquor Store Fraud and Identity Theft Incidents
One recent story involved Blanchard’s Liquor Store in Allston. According to the Boston Police Department (BPD), there’s an ongoing investigation into multiple consumer complaints about credit card and banking fraud occurring at the store. A spokesperson for Blanchard’s claims the store has been victimized by some type of “malware” inserted into its credit and debit card transactions.
Customers claiming their credit and banking information has been compromised by shopping at Blanchard’s said they’ve since discovered fraudulent purchases on their accounts elsewhere in Allston — and even in at least one other state. The FBI, Secret Service and independent IT consultants are all working with the BPD on this investigation.
All of those defrauded in this liquor store incident now realize that they must do more to carefully monitor all of their transactions, always looking for irregularities.
Five Important Ways to Guard Against Identity Theft
Before a bank or credit card company ever needs to call you about suspected fraud or misuse of your funds via identity theft, the Massachusetts’ Attorney General’s Office suggests you practice the following safety rules on a daily basis.
- Never carry your social security card in your purse or wallet and only take the credit card(s) you’ll need for any one specific outing;
- Always keep an accurate list of all the addresses and phone numbers for your banking institutions and credit card companies at home so you can immediately contact them whenever you suspect fraud;
- When paying bills through the mail, always personally deposit your mail in your local post office’s outgoing mailbox and never trust other unsecure mailboxes. Keep a list of all bills you’ve mailed along with the dates;
- Consider requesting a randomly assigned “S” number for your Massachusetts driver’s license. This will allow you to avoid giving out your social security information each time you must show your license to anyone you’re paying by check;
- Carefully review all of your banking and credit card statements each month, looking for any irregularities and unfamiliar transactions.
Once you discover any signs of identity theft or fraud, you must take several immediate steps to safeguard your identity and prevent additional crimes. Here are a few of those steps summarized for you.
First Steps to Take Upon Discovering You’re a Victim of Identity Theft
- Immediately contact the fraud department of all of your credit card companies and tell them what you’ve discovered. Make sure they place an immediate “freeze” on your account, along with a Fraud Alert;
- Call your bank and any other financial institutions you conduct business with on a regular basis and tell them what you’ve discovered. Also, ask them to also place a “freeze” on any accounts that are currently in jeopardy of abuse;
- Since Massachusetts law considers identity theft a crime ( M.G.L. c. 266, s. 37E), you must immediately file a police report with your local department;
- Order copies of all of your credit reports and begin monitoring them closely until you’re certain that all identity theft issues have been resolved. Also, help each of the credit reporting agencies create a proper Identity Theft Report and place it on your account;
- Review all of the added steps suggested by the Federal Trade Commission on their website that can help you begin fully protecting yourself from further fraud;
- Consider immediately contacting a private attorney to make sure you’re doing all that’s necessary to protect your rights.