How big of a threat is identity theft?
Local experts offer advice to consumers
McHENRY – Identity theft was a hot-button issue when Patrick Letizia started offering identity theft protection and restoration insurance about 35 years ago.
Letizia, who lives just outside Ringwood, runs a small financial advisory firm with his son, Paul Letizia, in McHenry.
“What we do is look at every aspect – taxes, inflation, investment return, Social Security, pensions, all the assets a client has – and this just fell into place because if someone takes your identity, they have access to, well, they can reroute Social Security checks, they can abscond with quite a bit,” Letizia said.
An estimated 12.6 million U.S. adults, or about 4 percent of the population, were the victims of some form of identity fraud in 2012, according to a survey by private research firm Javelin Strategy & Research.
Of the 2 million complaints filed with the federal Consumer Sentinel Network in 2012, 18 percent of them were related to identity theft.
Government documents or benefit fraud at 46 percent was the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by credit card fraud, phone or utilities fraud and bank fraud, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network 2013 report.
It can take years to clear up the results of a stolen identity, said Virginia Peschke, the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of McHenry County.
And while she doesn’t think identity theft is particularly common in McHenry County, she advises everyone to shred their documents, be careful about what links they open online and never carry their Social Security cards.
Her nonprofit – like Letizia’s firm and several other area businesses and nonprofits – offer shredding events where people can come and dispose of their bank statements and other papers.
Letizia sees part of his job as getting his clients thinking about their risk and how they can minimize it.
He asks them how they dispose of sensitive information and whether their computer is encrypted.
Letizia also offers them identity theft insurance through LegalShield.
About 50 million people subscribed to some sort of identity theft protection, which includes packages that monitor consumers’ credit reports and others that also offer insurance, in 2010, according to Consumer Reports.
In a February 2012 article, the nonprofit said it found “these protection plans provide questionable value,” adding that consumers can do a lot of what these products offer on their own and for free.
None of Letizia’s clients has had to take advantage of the policy as far as he’s aware, he said, though about 60 percent of them have signed up.
Despite the fact that Letizia hasn’t come across a case of identity theft in his practice, both he and his son both have the insurance.
“Every time we go out to dinner and give our credit card to a waiter or whatever, there’s no screening that waiters or waitresses go through or, for that matter, retailers,” Letizia said. “There’s no background checks.”
An identity theft hotline run by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office can be reached at 866-999-5630. A resource guide also is available at illinoisattorneygeneral.gov under Protecting Consumers.
What to do
1. Report fraud to credit card companies and banks. Also notify phone, utility, Internet and other service providers.
2. Place an initial fraud alert on credit report, which entitles people to a free copy of their report. Only one of the three companies needs to be notified because they are required to contact the two others.
3. File a police report. This serves as proof of the crime while dealing with creditors.
4. Consider placing a security freeze on credit report, which prevents it from being released to another person without permission.
Source: Illinois Attorney General’s Office