Identity Theft And Consumer Issues

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft involves a wrong-doer stealing personal information, whether it be financial, medical, tax, business, government related or otherwise, and using the data illegally without the victim's knowledge. Dealing with the consequences of identity theft is a cumbersome process: from establishing documentation, to communicating with credit and governmental organizations, and repairing a damaged reputation. Although laws are in place to protect those who suffer from identity theft, victims can benefit from the guidance of a legal professional to help them navigate and resolve the misconduct.

Types of Identity Theft

Identity thieves are experts in creating new methods to detrimentally illegally access your personal and business accounts and confidential information. They operate under many guises in person or electronically to perform a wide range of crimes including:

  • Financial fraud: tampering with bank and investment accounts; stealing checking, ATM, debit and credit card information; filing for bankruptcy; obtaining loans or debt services
  • Official documents: stealing government issued documents such as social security card, passport, drivers license; stealing your mail to obtain information
  • Medical: insurance fraud or infringement of government medical benefits

How to protect yourself

  • When using a debit card frequently change your PIN number; do not give the PIN number to others - for example in a store or restaurant when asked to provide your PIN enter the number yourself rather than sharing it. Be wary of ATM machines, especially in crowded or touristic areas, that may be rigged to pick up your personal information
  • Check your bank and credit card statements regularly so that you are aware of the transactions being recorded
  • Refrain from carrying checks with you as they can be forged
  • Do not carry all of your identification documents or financial cards with you in the same wallet or purse. That way if your belongings are stolen you will at least have alternate backups and make it more difficult for a thief to corrupt all accounts
  • Do not use the same alphabetic or numeric passwords on all accounts to prevent a thief from easily being able to access various accounts
  • Keep up to date copies of your important documents stored safely at home so that you have backup
  • Check your credit reports periodically to assure accurate data is presented

Taking action

If you believe you suffer from any form of identity theft, take action immediately:

  • Financial fraud: contact your bank, credit institution, brokerage, and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) if necessary. The institution should block your account from being accessed, set up a fraud alert, and notify vendors of illegal activity which has occurred
  • For suspected bankruptcy fraud contact the U.S. Trustee Program in your region for investigation
  • Official documents: contact the government agency which issued the document to report theft or fraud. Use the backup copies of your documents to authenticate your identity
  • Medical: contact the relevant healthcare agents to report fraudulent activity or mistakes. Highlight the activity on your medical report and provide a written description to ensure that there is proof of your submission

Mortgage Loan Modification Scams

Mortgage loan modification scams are carried out by individuals or organizations that claim to assist homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments. These scams were especially prevalent during the mortgage crisis when people were in dire need of help and unfortunately received just the opposite from these scammers.

What are the common types of mortgage scams?

  • A major red flag of a loan scam is an upfront request for a service or payment fee. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, has outlawed a fee being paid for mortgage modification services, thus anyone claiming to help you should not be asking for a fee. There are multiple nonprofit and governmental organizations that have been set up to assist including:
    1. " Making Home Affordable.gov"
    2. " HOPE NOW"
    3. The Homeowners Preservation Foundation
    4. Neighbor Works America
    5. Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline: 1-888-995-HOPE (4673)
  • Note that it is impossible to guarantee beforehand that a loan refinancing or foreclosure will or will not happen. Scammers will make false promises to con homeowners into handing over money in return for these fake guarantees.
  • As with identity theft scams, be weary of those who ask for your personal, financial or banking information, especially over the phone or electronically. Scammers can then access your accounts to misuse the information.
  • Be sure to double check the authenticity and name of the organization you are working with to modify your loan. Scammers have adopted names that are very similar to the well-known government assistance programs in order to confuse homeowners.

Cantwell & Goldman, PA specializes in assisting clients to help make sure that they do not fall victim to these scams. Call us today if you have any questions regarding loan modification scams so that our  skilled attorneys can steer you in the right direction so that you are not victimized.

Computer Scams

Computer scams involve a variety of online and technical support fraud. Scammers on the internet practicing illegal activity will uplift banking and credit card information a user enters onto a fake or corrupted site, and then make unsolicited charges or drain the user's account. Taking advantage of the technical service sector, scammers have developed a number of ploys to con users:

  • Acting as technical support crew, scammers will telephone users and try to convince them that their computer systems are at risk of malware and viruses.
  • They will often claim to work for well-known service providers to gain the victim's trust.
  • They will ask for personal information which they may then use to conduct other scams such as identity theft.
  • Scammers will try to gain remote access to a user's computer and then steal information that has been shared on the screen.
  • They will make sales pitches to try and deceive a user into buying software that does not exist or is actually not needed.
  • Very often scammers will try to sell "upgraded" programs and systems claiming they have more benefit than the legitimate free versions.

Don't be fooled by computer scams

In order to protect yourself from computer scans:

  • Do not provide personal, banking and financial information over the telephone or online.
  • Do not give away access passwords to your computer programs. Legitimate support staff will never ask directly for your password.
  • Check your banking and billing statements regularly and report any activity which you do not recognize.
  • Be wary if you receive an unwarranted telephone call from alleged technical support staff. If you believe there is actually an issue call back your service provider directly.
  • Double check the authenticity of organizations, even those you find online via a search, to ensure they are trustworthy. Check consumer ratings boards to find out others experience with the provider.

If you have been a victim of computer fraud contact your state Attorney General's office Cyber Fraud section for assistance. Alternatively, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has set up the Internet Crime Complaint Center ( IC3).

A qualified legal professional at Cantwell & Goldman can help you report these crimes and work to recover financial losses which may have incurred.

Credit Discrimination

Laws such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) are in place to protect the American consumer from credit discrimination on the basis of personal background. It is is illegal to discriminate because of ethnicity, religion, gender, marital status, age, and national origin. A creditor may NOT make lending decisions based on these criteria.

Discrimination occurs when a lender:

  • Does not approve a loan based on an equal opportunity criteria infraction.
  • Charges a higher interest rate for a loan based on an equal opportunity criteria infraction.
  • Adds exceptional and unnecessary conditions or clauses to the agreement which would not be otherwise included.
  • Discourages an applicant from pursuing a lending opportunity based on an equal opportunity criteria infraction.

It may be difficult to pinpoint discrimination overtly. You can prepare yourself with knowledge on the lending terms you qualify for by:

  • Contacting a number of credit agencies so that you are aware of multiple options.
  • Having backup documents of your credit report and status on hand.
  • Comparing your experience and credit options to those with similar backgrounds.

If you feel as if you have been discriminated against in any way, contact Cantwell & Goldman today so that we may advise and help you so that you do not become a victim of credit discrimination.

Debt Collection Agencies

The Fair Trade Commission, FTC, set laws under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to prevent consumers from being exploited by debt collection scammers. A legitimate debt collection agency will never threaten you in any way, with a lawsuit or other scare tactics.

Scammers routinely disguise themselves as debt collectors to operate a number of cons including:

  • Trying to convince you that you must pay off an old debt which is already past the statute of limitations for a creditor to seek compensation. It is important to have full information on your credit history and past debts, and also know your rights so that you can check if the debt obligation is still valid.
  • As in other identity theft cases, debt collection scammers will try to extract personal and financial information from you for corrupt means. Never disclose banking, financial or official government information to a supposed creditor as real agencies will already have this information on hand.
  • A fake debt collector may try to pin you with the obligations of another consumer who has your same name. Request information in writing for the debt in question so that you may properly analyze your involvement or lack thereof.
  • An illegitimate collector will not readily respond when you ask for their contact information, thus be sure to verify the agency they are representing.

Our attorneys at Cantwell & Goldman have extensive knowledge on specific Florida State legislation related to debt collection and the time periods in which it is possible for a collector to file a lawsuit.