(WXYZ) — We talk about scams almost every day, but recently, the Federal Trade Commission has zeroed in on identity theft. It's the FTC's Identity Theft Awareness Week, and we went to the experts to see how you can if you're being targeted and protect yourself from it.
Elliot Sprehe, an Air Force veteran who lives in Wayne County, will never forget when his identity was stolen a few years ago.
"Someone filed a tax return in my name and actually gave me a promotion and a significantly higher salary, which is why the IRS red-flagged that, I came to find out later," Sprehe said.
Thankfully, he didn't lose any money, and no loans were taken out in his name. But he had to contact the IRS, FTC, and all the credit bureaus.
“Even now years down the road, I get an annual pin number from the IRS to identify me as myself," he said.
Identity theft is a huge issue in the U.S. Last year, the FTC received identity theft reports from more than 1.3 million people, and they consider that number just a drop in the bucket because many people never report being a victim.
"Identity theft happens when a thief uses someone's personal or financial information without their permission," Kelle Slaughter, the FTC Identity Theft Program Manager, said.
She added that thieves often use that stolen information to illegally borrow money or get a credit card in someone else's name.
"It costs time and money to recover from those issues — not to mention the emotional toll that it takes on the person," Slaughter added.
She said the top reported ID theft scam over the last year is credit card fraud.
So, how do you know if you've been a victim?
First, check your banking and credit card statements regularly so you can catch any unusual activity.
Second, request a free credit report. During the pandemic, all three of the credit reporting companies have been offering free weekly online credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Third, consider credit freezes and fraud alerts to better protect yourself.
And, if you become a victim, the FTC has created a tool to help.
IdentityTheft.gov is a place where you can report what happened, get a recovery plan, and create an account with the FTC so you can start repairing your identity.
Sprehe said it was a hassle, but he learned it can happen to anyone. The FTC also has a list of resources and publications for identity theft.
Bottom line, if you think someone nefarious may have been trying to steal your personal information, report it.