The pandemic has caused financial hardship for millions of Americans, but identity thieves are thriving. The annual Consumer Sentinel Network Report, released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), shows that reports of identity theft increased by 213% in 2020.
Of all fraud reports in 2020, identity theft was the most common. The Consumer Sentinel Report estimated that one in five consumers lost money to fraud in 2020. Unfortunately, it seems that no consumer is safe. More reports of identity theft were filed amongst 20-39 year olds than any other age group in 2020, accounting for 31% of all reported fraud. However, the highest quantity of loss was reported amongst individuals aged 60-69. Although these consumers only accounted for 18% of reported fraud, their losses accumulated to $290 million dollars in 2020.
Thieves can steal the identity of consumers in many ways, but 2020 saw an explosion in one category in particular: theft of government benefits. As consumers increasingly relied on unemployment benefits loaded onto prepaid debit cards to support their families in 2020, thieves capitalized on the government’s willingness to pay. This resulting in a 2920% increase in government benefit fraud. The second most common form of identity theft was credit card fraud, up 48% in 2020.
In order to avoid being the victim of identity theft, it is important to be cautious in how you give out personal information, such as your social security number and birthdate. You should also be careful never to give other people your PIN, even if they claim to have a legitimate reason for wanting it. You should also be cautious when sharing other personal information, such as your address. Identity thieves can use this information to drain your accounts, open credit cards and even file for unemployment in your name.
It is also essential to regularly (at least once a month) review your account activity. If you begin seeing charges for items you didn’t buy, dispute the charges promptly, in writing to your bank.
The attorneys at the Financial Justice Initiative (a joint project of Terrell Marshall Law Group and Schlanger Law Group) have extensive experience protecting consumers from scammers and fraud. Important federal laws, such as the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, the Truth in Lending Act, and the Fair Credit Billing Act provide protection against unauthorized transfers, debit card theft, and charges for goods that are not received and require financial institutions that don’t follow the rules to pay for the victim’s attorney’s fees and costs.
If you believe that you may be the victim of identity theft, do not hesitate to contact us.