FRANKFORT – The Eighth Commandment may call on us not to steal, but the unfortunate reality is that there have always been those who don’t hesitate to rob others. In today’s electronic age, when the thief doesn’t even have to be in the same country as his victim to commit a crime, that has become easier than ever.
Kentucky made 25,000 reports of fraud and identity theft last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and losses totaled about $6 million. If there is a silver lining, it’s that we’re not as big a target as many other states. The top ones, in fact, have per-capita rates that are double ours.
The FTC says younger adults are much more likely to report losing money than senior citizens. Forty percent of those who were taken in by scammers are in their 20s, while 18 percent are 70 or older. Still, older Americans who are victimized are much more likely to have bigger losses, especially if they are over 80.
We may think children are immune from these types of crimes, but they can have their identity stolen as well. What makes this even tougher is that they and their families may not even know it for years, until the children begin to establish their own credit histories as young adults.
At the other end of the spectrum, even those who have passed away can still be victimized. Several years ago, Social Security indicated there were 6.5 million active numbers for people who would have to be 112, far above the three or so dozen worldwide who actually were close to that age at the time.
The General Assembly has passed several pieces of legislation over the years designed to reduce the number of fraud cases, and we’ve cracked down on those convicted of running scams. During this year’s legislative session, we made it easier for people to freeze their credit reports for indefinite periods, so that thieves are less able to open such things as credit-card accounts in their name.
Individuals may have little control over data breaches involving businesses or credit agencies like Equifax, which reported last fall that hackers had accessed accounts of more than 140 million Americans, but there are still many steps we can and should take to protect our good name and bank accounts.
The FTC’s website – www.ftc.gov – is a good starting point, since you can use it to file complaints, get scam alerts and add your name to the national Do Not Call registry. The Kentucky Attorney General’s office has information as well at https://ag.ky.gov/, and local and statewide law enforcement are also on the front lines.
Kentuckians can check their credit reports for free once a year by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. I recommend taking this step to make sure someone is not mis-using your identity.
Some other actions we need to take include keeping our security software up to date on our smart phones and computers; avoiding solicitations that seem too good to be true; making our online passwords stronger; and shredding anything we receive with personal information on it. We also have to be careful not to fall for scams in which thieves pretend to represent banks or government agencies.
One mistake can be costly. In South Carolina, a single state employee who fell victim to an email scam in 2012 allowed criminals to access information on three million people and 700,000 businesses. The state spent $16 million providing free credit monitoring and identity-theft protection for those affected.
While it is regrettable that we have to do even more now to protect our wallets, I encourage you to review any vulnerabilities you might have. Taking a few minutes now can save a lot of headaches down the road. We can wish it were otherwise, but as the world becomes more connected and thieves become more sophisticated, we have to do all we can to make sure we keep what is ours.
As always, I appreciate any views or questions you may have about this issue or any other affecting the state. You can always email me atRick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and if you’d like to leave a message, the toll-free number is 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305. To check such things as committee meeting schedules, please visit the General Assembly’s website at www.lrc.ky.gov.