ORLANDO, Fla. — Identity theft is not a new crime, but it is a crime that’s exploding exponentially.
Why is that? FBI says the pandemic is a major reason.
What You Need To Know
- FBI received 30,000 ID theft cases nationwide in the first 4 months of 2021
- FBI had 40,000 cases in all of last year
- Data shows 95% of recent COVID deaths were not vaccinated
- County trying to increase vaccine accessibility, outreach
- RELATED: How to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Central Florida
According to FBI data, in the first four months of 2021, the FBI received about 30,000 cases of identity theft nationwide. Compare that to the 40,000 cases the FBI received all last year.
“I got a strange email from someone I never dealt with, asking me why I sent them a bill for photography services for almost $1,000,” said Michael Pagano, who had his identity first stolen in February.
Pagano says he immediately called law enforcement and filed a report, which is exactly what the FBI recommends.
“You absolutely want to file a police report, because that will be part of your proof when you contact the companies to try and dispute the charges or anything that has happened to your identity,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Ronald Hopper.
But in the following four months, Pagano says someone opened up a credit card in his name, changed his mailing address, and even signed up for informed delivery — a service which allows you to track your mail before it’s delivered.
“They were then able to see all our mail coming in, and it wasn’t just me at that point, it was also my daughter and wife,” said Pagano.
According to FBI reports, in 2019 — there were 2,953 reports of identity theft in Florida. In 2020, there were 6,334 reports.
And for 2021?
"It's on track to grow three times what it is already currently and the pandemic is a large part,” said Hopper.
Hopper says with more people working from home and networking online, criminals from anywhere in the world have easier access to your personal information.
“Personally, I was a victim of it. I actually have a set up on my credit card anytime more than $1 is charged, I get an email or text and I verify it,” said Hopper. “I was a little shocked at first, but it makes you realize that no one is immune to it.”
Pagano describes the online world as the wild, wild west — one with few security measures.
“To file a change of address, there’s almost no background check,” said Pagano.
The United State Postal Service is investigating Pagano’s case, but declined to share details.
An agency spokesman says it processes 37 million address changes a year and says most are legitimate.
The spokesman issued a statement reading in part, “… As these situations arise, the USPS reevaluates their internal controls to address security concerns.”
For Pagano, while he’s taking all the precautions he can, he still doesn’t feel totally protected.
Hopper says unfortunately, it is difficult to find those criminals, which is why he is urging everyone to take the safety steps before you’re a victim.
He says the most important step is creating strong passwords, and changing them every few months.
- Read your credit card and bank statements each month
- Never give your credit card number over the phone, unless you made the call and trust the business or person
- Report suspicious transactions to your credit card company or bank
- Review a copy of your credit report at least once each year and notify the credit bureau in writing of any questionable entries
- Shred any documents with personal or financial information on them
If you're a victim of identity theft or have information about these types of crimes, you can:
- Visit identitytheft.gov for steps you can take to report and recover.
- Report the crime to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) if the identity theft occurred online
- Call your local police agency and file a report to create a paper trail and official documentation of incident
- Contact the Federal Trade Commissions so they can track trends and share analysis with FBI and Secret Service
- Check for last-minute changes in wiring instructions or recipient account information
- Verify vendor information via the recipient's contact information on file — do not contact the vendor through the number provided in the email
- Verify the email address used to send emails, especially when using a mobile or handheld device, by ensuring the sender's email address appears to match who it is coming from
- If you discover you are the victim of a fraudulent incident, immediately contact your financial institution to request a recall of funds, and contact your employer to report irregularities with payroll deposits. As soon as possible, file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or, for BEC and/or email account compromise (EAC) victims, BEC.IC3.gov.
Cyber Crime Vulnerability Tips
The following tips can help protect individuals and businesses from being victimized by cyber actors:
- Verify the web address of legitimate websites and manually type them into your browser
- Change passwords for routers and smart devices from default setting to unique passwords
- Check for misspelled domain names within a link (for example, confirm that addresses for government websites end in .gov)
- Report suspicious activity on work computers to your employer
- Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) when accessing organizational sites, resources, and files
- Practice good cyber security when accessing Wi-Fi networks, including use of strong passwords and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or WPA2 protocols
- Ensure desktops, laptops, and mobile devices have anti-virus software installed and routine security updates are applied; this includes regularly updating web browsers, browser plugins, and document readers
- Open attachments or click links within emails received from senders you do not recognize
- Provide usernames, passwords, birth dates, social security numbers, financial data, or other personal information in response to an email or phone call
- Use public or non-secure Wi-Fi access points to access sensitive information
- Use the same password for multiple accounts
If private sector partners have additional questions, you can reach out to local FBI Field Office Private Sector Coordinators. If you have evidence your child's data may have been compromised, if you are the victim of an internet scam or cybercrime, or if you want to report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.