Identity Theft: Is Your Information Safe?

Identity theft scammers can use anything from your Facebook profile to a piece of junk mail to steal personal information.

In this Special Report, Courtney Hunter takes a closer look at the security of our personal documents and ways to keep your information safe.

“I called my broker, and then a day later he said, ‘You’ve been hacked,’ and shut down our account,” says John Nantau.

In 2001, John and Heather Nantau were victims of identity theft.

“Yeah, what they had done is they had gotten a check out of my checkbook, I don’t know how they got it. It was just ripped out of the middle of sequence,” says Heather. “With that, they got credit cards, and checks and just started using them everywhere.”

A few weeks and thousands of dollars later, John and Heather were left to figure out what to do next.

“What we did was we asked them what was our recourse, what do we need to do, what makes the most sense? So they stopped our account and at that point we opened up a police report,” explains John. 

Michigan State Police say actually reporting these crimes is a very important part of the process.

“They need to get that process started with getting a police report done, and then notify any of their creditors or debtors that this has occurred. That needs to be done really quickly, because if a guy has your credit card and he’s using it, the damage is going to be done within 24 hours,” says Michigan State Police Detective Greg Hubers, ICAC Task Force.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2014 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft, and thieves stole a total of $15.4 billion.

In Michigan, state police say roughly 1 in 10 people encounter some type of identity fraud each year, but only about 1% of those people are victims of scammers in the state.

“Most criminals in the online world will get that through phishing scams, and from ‘too good to be true’ offers,” says Detective Hubers. “Those people really use social media. You can find out an awful lot from their social media page.”

Something as simple as junk mail, an old receipt or airline ticket can even make you vulnerable.

Just to demonstrate this for you, I’m going to scan this old airline ticket of mine with an app on my phone. Now, I’m obviously not going to show you all of the information that comes up, because the right person with the right connections can decode this and use my personal information. But it just goes to show how some of these simple, seemingly unimportant documents can carry a lot of valuable information to a scammer.

“Most of it is sold amongst each other,” says Detective Hubers. “As fast as technology advances, criminals also advance in their technology to defeat chips in cards, and things like that. There are scanners out there that can read info from your driver’s license if they’re about three feet away from you.”

With that information, scammers can take your personal information to steal your money and open accounts, ultimately destroying a victim’s credit score.

“It can affect your ability to get a job, it can affect your insurance, which a lot of folks have heard of. It can affect the price on your student loans, it can affect your housing decisions, people can look at your credit and decide whether to rent to you or not,” explains Doug Seany, V.P. of lending at 4Front Credit Union.

The damage isn’t just financial either –it’s emotional.

“I think the hardest part, because you don’t know when it’s gonna end, you don’t know when it’s gonna stop, you don’t know how it’s gonna escalate, you don’t know if your bank’s gonna reimburse you, or be there for you or how much, how much information do they have on me?” say John and Heather.

“From what I’ve heard from victims, it is a very painful, long process to regain your identity,” says Detective Hubers.

There are a few simple, but important things you can do to protect yourself.

-Check on your accounts regularly

-Shred documents that contain vulnerable information

-Monitor your credit

“You know what? You can absolutely drive yourself crazy by you know, going so overboard and being so paranoid. You really have to be your own advocate by looking, by keeping up on everything,” says Heather.

For more information on current scams, getting credit reports and keeping your information safe, click here