CHEYENNE – Just some statistics to consider: The odds of getting struck by lightning are one in 960,000. The odds of dating a millionaire are one in 220.

And the odds of experiencing a data breach, such as the breach that took place at Target in 2013 and Google last year, are one in four.

“Either you know it or you don’t, but more than likely in some way, unless you are paying in cash only and you’ve never applied for a line of credit, you have been involved in a data breach,” said Detective Aaron Willmarth during a community meeting on identity theft Thursday at the Cheyenne Public Safety Center.

Each year, Willmarth said, the number of people who are victims of identity theft grows.

Willmarth cited statistics from California-based Javelin Strategy and Research that showed the number of victims grew from 12.6 million people in 2012 to 16.7 million people in 2017.

The number of victims dipped in 2013 and 2014 as debit and credit cards with embedded microchips were introduced, Willmarth said, but the number of victims has continued to grow since then.

Willmarth cited information from the Federal Trade Commission, which places identity theft crimes into six major categories:

  • Employment or tax related fraud – A criminal uses someone else’s Social Security number and other personal information to gain employment or to file an income tax return.
  • Credit card fraud – The thief uses someone else’s credit card or credit card number to make fraudulent purchases.
  • Phone or utilities fraud – The criminal uses someone’s personal information to open a wireless phone or utility account.
  • Bank fraud – The fraudster uses someone’s personal information to take over an existing financial account to open a new account in someone else’s name.
  • Loan or lease fraud – A borrower or a lessee uses someone’s information to obtain a loan or lease.
  • Government documents or benefits fraud – The criminal uses stolen personal information to obtain government benefits.

A thief can obtain personal information in many ways, Willmarth said, including stealing credit card offers and bills in the mail that have been discarded and not shredded.

He said the Postal Service offers a service called “Informed Delivery” where consumers can get an email showing what is coming in the mailbox.

“If there’s something important, a bill, credit card information, that you’re not getting, you can report that to them and if there’s mail that is continuously missing on the route, they can look at a carrier or look into why those things are not showing up.”

A lot of times, he said, it’s something as simple as leaving a wallet or a purse on a counter.

“I’ve seen people go up and grab purses right out of a cart in a store,” Willmarth said. “You have credit cards, debit cards – they go straight to the check stand and they are converting those into pre-paid cards. They don’t have to hold anything more than a couple of minutes. They just throw the purse in the trash on the way out.”

Unfortunately, even a family member, a roommate or other home visitor can steal mail to steal an identity.

In repairing the damage, Willmarth recommends closing any new accounts opened in your name.

Ensure you receive communications from the creditor – usually by letter. The letter should also acknowledge the account is being removed from your credit history.

Willmarth said he also recommends removing the invalid charges from your valid account.

Call the fraud department. A consumer may want to close the account and open anew. Get a letter from the creditor acknowledging the fraudulent charge.

If the account is not removed from credit history, contact the credit bureaus. Include a copy of the identity theft report from the Federal Trade Commission as well as proof of your identity, such as your name, address and Social Security number.

Residents can also be proactive in preventing and detecting identification theft, Willmarth said.

Proactive approaches include checking a credit report annually at www.annualcreditreport.com, opting out of direct marketing mail by calling 888-5OPTOUT and signing up for the “Do Not Call” list at www.donotcall.gov.

Residents should also shred mailers and store sensitive documents safely.

Other ways to prevent identity theft, he said, include using credit monitoring services, choosing strong passwords and not reusing them and utilizing a virtual private network when using public Wi-Fi.

Residents can also go to haveibeenpwned.com to check whether an account has been compromised in a data breach.

“I highly suggest that you are proactive in knowing how many accounts you have,” Willmarth said. “Most fraud departments that you call are pretty easy to work with.”

Residents should report the fraud to local law enforcement. Bring all documents, such as statements, letters and emails.

Also, report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission by going online to ftc.gov or calling 877-438-4338.

Willmarth also recommends starting a journal to document what has been done and who has been contacted.

“When you talk to ‘Sally’ at a credit card company and she says they will close an account for you, and six months later it’s still open, you want to know who you talked to and when you talked to them,” he said.

To learn more, visit ftc.gov or idtheftcenter.org.

Steve Knight is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3182 or sknight@wyomingnews.com.

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