How your name can put you at greater risk of identity theft

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Recently, I was confused with a person of the same name who made headline news. It was a bit funny…and a bit frustrating. I don’t know about you, but it isn’t easy seeing your name next to “indicted” and “plead guilty” early on a Monday morning. After I posted my denial on Twitter that went viral, it appears I may have managed the misunderstanding fairly well.

While I didn’t think my name was common in the U.S. (Most people can’t even pronounce my last name properly!), I was surprised that a Google search showed there are many of us out there, all sharing the exact same name. And, it made me wonder what that means for people with common names beyond a brief moment of mistaken identity: Do they have a higher risk of identity theft and what should they do about it?

This recent identity-theft statistic shocked me. According the Insurance Information Institute, $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. consumers in 2016. So I did the math: That means that out of roughly 326 million U.S. current residents including newborns, nearly 5% had their identity stolen last year alone.

And those are the reported thefts—the actual figures might be much higher because people are often embarrassed to report becoming a victim, or worse, don’t even know (yet) that their identity was stolen.

And, as it turns out, some of these 326 million people are more susceptible to identity theft than others. Experts report that a person’s name can actually make him or her a more attractive target. Since thieves prefer the easiest ways to commit crimes, common names are attractive simply because there are so many out there. Credit-reporting companies have a hard time keeping the credit history of one “Jane Smith” distinct from the credit history of another “Jane Smith,” particularly if they live near each other. Crooks take advantage of the fact that this makes it easier to commit fraud. And in same-name cases, the identity thief can perpetrate the crime for a longer period before getting caught.

Sadly, we’re not just talking about monetary theft. It’s common for identity thieves to obtain a driver’s license in their target’s name and go on to commit vehicular moving violations, and even crimes. Unfortunately, having the same name also makes it difficult for police and investigators to sort out the truth, which has led to innocent citizens being arrested by mistake.

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There are companies that monitor the transactions made in your name and you can pay them to help you stay alert to identity theft. However, there’s no fail-safe plan—same-name cases are more difficult for them to monitor for the same reasons investigators and police are challenged. Particularly, if you have a common name, the fixes you can make are often after the identity error has occurred and you’ve become aware of it.

Take steps to prevent identity theft

So what can you do? Here are some pre-emptive measures that can help.

— Obtain a “clearance letter” from your local district attorney to have on hand if you are ever stopped for a traffic violation and your record is checked. The clearance letter would clearly indicate that you have not committed the crimes done by the identity thief using your name.

— If you live in a state that’s set up an “identity-theft passport program” (Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma or Virginia), you can receive and carry with you an official Identity Theft Passport that confirms your true identity.

— Get a copy of your complete driving record annually and check that it represents your activity only.

— Continue to closely monitor your credit reports and report issues immediately.

Some victims first become aware their identity was stolen when they are denied employment after a prospective employer finds inaccurate criminal convictions on the job applicant’s credit report. If denied employment, you have the right to see the consumer credit report used to make the adverse decision and you have the right to dispute the accuracy of the information.

Here’s the deal. Whether or not you have a common name, the responsibility to protect your identity, credit and criminal record belongs on your shoulders.





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