Identity theft rampant amidst COVID and tax time

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By JD LONG

Jim@harrisonnewsherald.com

HARRISON COUNTY – Identity theft has been a problem around the country for quite some time and it’s certainly no stranger to Harrison County. A Harrison County Sheriff’s Office personnel member (referred to here as PM) spoke this week about what he sees as a big problem, especially with seniors being targeted.

When reviewing the regular sheriff’s reports this week, three cases of identity theft were noticed but one sheriff’s deputy said that was only for one day and there are many more cases being reported.

The county is averaging around two per day but the PM admits not all are legitimate but it does not outweigh the ones that are. He said the perpetrators are mostly from foreign countries that speak little or no English and mainly target the elderly.

“That’s where my concern is,” the PM said. “They’re lonely, they want to talk to somebody and they like to talk on the phone.” He repeated that these people on the scam end are not from Harrison County, Ohio or even the United States, at least for the vast majority of scammers.

He said the two steps local authorities take are contacting the Ohio Attorney General’s office, fraud department and the Federal Trade Commission. He said there is a whole step process for filing complaints and it is tedious. He added that people can conduct a free credit report and not hurt their credit where they can see if their credit rating has shrunk do to fraud. Also, people are encouraged to check their bank accounts on a regular basis, which can be done online.

The PM did emphasize that just because someone knows your phone number and calls, doesn’t mean they have stolen your identity. What they want during the call is that personal information such as, social security number, credit card information, banking information or anything personal that could aid in a criminal’s efforts to steal identity.

“I cannot stress enough how important to not give out personal information,” he stated. He also said, which has been stressed over and over is that the Internal Revenue Service does not call so when someone calls and identifies themselves as such, it is a scam in the making. He again emphasized that people should not share any personal information with a stranger who has contacted you “without notice” or “unexpectedly.”

“There are people out there that have nothing to do but ruin other people’s lives, at the end of the day,” the PM explained adding that some of the techniques criminals will use are coaxing people to go to Walmart to purchase gift cards, or they’ll use Publisher’s Clearing House to con someone into thinking they’ve won a prize but will try to get you to purchase something before collecting on that “prize.”

Annualcreditreport.com offers some help, which states on the website: “Authorized by Federal law.”

A Cleveland.com story from last month (Jan. 19) noted that unemployment scams are so widespread that both Gov. Mike DeWine and wife Fran, as well as Lt. Gov. John Husted were themselves victims. Husted was quoted as saying “so many false claims have been filed that state officials are now checking on every claim to make sure it’s genuine. That, Husted said, often leads to legitimate claims being delayed.”

He quoted a statement from Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services spokesman Tom Betti saying some Ohioans are receiving 1099 tax forms from the ODJFS “for jobless benefits dishonestly filed for in their name.”

Identity theft and fraud can be reported on the Federal Trade Commission website (www.ftc.gov) with a section for entering a recovery plan as well.

Additional information provided by the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office: Go to (unemployment.ohio.gov).

According to the Ohio Department of Taxation’s website, if you received a 1099 for unemployment benefits. The site also says not to file an Ohio ID theft affidavit with your Ohio tax return unless a fraudulent tax return was filed using your social security number.

Go to: (tax.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov.tax) for more information. Take steps to protect your identity, including contacting the local police and attorney general. The state also suggests placing fraud alerts on your accounts. Go to (unemploymenthelp.ohio.gov/IdentityTheft/).

Authorities suggest placing credit freezes on all your credit bureau files.

Here is information on contacting various bureaus:

Equifax: 888-298-0045 or (equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze).

Experian: 888-397-3742 or (experian.com/freeze/center.html).

TransUnion: 888-909-8872 or (transunion.com/securityfreeze).

Also, another good resource for ID theft victims is the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit in San Diego. Visit: (idtheftcenter.org) or call: 888-400-5530.

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