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Press Releases

State Warns of Christmas Season Identity Theft

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security; November 21, 2012: 

NASHVILLE — The start of the holiday season not only brings excitement to many people, it also brings concern about identity theft to millions of consumers who kick off the holiday shopping season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. December is Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month and, according to the Federal Trade Commission, it is also the time of year when most identity crime occurs.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Identity Crimes Unit warns consumers to beware of identity thieves who victimize holiday shoppers. The unit urges holiday shoppers to take precautions to protect their identity during the busy holiday season.

“During the holiday shopping season, citizens are making more transactions and spending more money than any other time of the year. Identity thieves are looking for easy targets, and there are many more opportunities for them to steal your identity and ruin your credit,” said Captain Stacy Williams of the Identity Crimes Unit.

The Identity Crimes Unit offers these tips to help keep holiday shoppers safe:

  • When paying by credit card, don’t allow clerks to put your receipts in your bag. Instead, carry receipts in your wallet where they are safer and less likely to fall out of bags.
  • Watch cashiers, waiters, and bartenders, ensuring that they don’t “skim” or save your card number for later use.
  • When paying by check. Never allow merchants to write your social security number on the check.
  • Use a gel ink pen—preferably black—to write checks. The ink will permeate the fibers and make it difficult for the check to be cleaned and reused.
  • When shopping online, be careful of wireless internet connections. Only use those that require a security key or certificate.
  • Shop on secure, reputable websites by looking for addresses that start with “https” and include a small padlock icon.
  • Never offer personal information, especially your social security number, to online stores.
  • Leave suspicious websites immediately.
  • Read customer reviews before ordering products.
  • Use a credit card and not a debit card, which makes it harder for you to get funds back and gives thieves access to funds in your bank account.
  • Avoid carrying a social security card, birth certificate, passport, bank information or paychecks when hitting the stores. You could easily lose them and identity thieves find these particularly helpful.
  • Check your bank statements, credit card bills, and credit reports often, helping to quickly catch any efforts to use your identity.

Identity fraud, the actual misuse of stolen identity information, is an increasing problem in the United States. According to a report by Javelin Strategy and Research, more than 11.6 million Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2011, an increase of 13 percent over 2010.

Last year, for the 12th year in a row, identity theft topped the list of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. Of the more than 1.8 million complaints filed with the FTC in 2011, 15 percent were related to identity theft.

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security Identity Crimes Unit was formed earlier this year to combat the increase in identity theft and related crimes in Tennessee. The unit is comprised of employees from three divisions of the department: Tennessee Highway Patrol, Office of Homeland Security, and Driver Services Division.

If you have been the victim of an identity crime, you can get information and help by downloading a resource kit for identity theft victims from http://www.tn.gov/safety/ICU.shtml.

Categories
Press Releases

State Announces Creation of New Identity-Crimes Unit

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security; August 28, 2012:

NASHVILLE—Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons announced today the formation of a new investigative unit to combat the increase in identity theft and related crimes in Tennessee. The newly formed Identity Crimes Unit is comprised of employees from three divisions of the department: Tennessee Highway Patrol, Office of Homeland Security, and Driver Services Division.

Additionally, the Identity Crimes Unit is receiving support from federal partners. The United States Secret Service Nashville and Memphis field offices; Homeland Security Investigations, under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Memphis division, are supporting the Identity Crimes Unit in investigations with possible federal violations.

The new unit is the direct outgrowth of the department’s top-to-bottom review requested last year by Governor Bill Haslam.

“As part of the top-to-bottom review, we focused on the needs of our citizens and the law enforcement community, as well as ways we could maximize the effective use of the resources we have,” Gibbons said.

According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, a date base used by law enforcement to collect consumer complaints, in 2011 there were 4,275 complaints of identity theft filed in Tennessee, compared to 4,175 filed in 2010. Nationwide, in 2011 there were 279,156 complaints of identity theft filed, compared to 258,854 filed in 2010.

“Identity crimes are a growing part of our crime problem, and many local law enforcement agencies struggle with investigating these cases. In addition, the Highway Patrol has specific authority under state law to investigate identity theft, there are obvious homeland security concerns with such crimes, and many identity crimes relate to driver licenses. So, we see it as a great opportunity for all three divisions of the department—our state troopers, homeland security agents, and driver license examiners—to work together as a team,” Gibbons noted.

The Identity Crimes Unit provides support to local law enforcement upon request, but will consider several factors to determine the level of involvement. Some of these factors include fraudulent use of a driver license; a nexus to homeland security issues; cooperation of victims; violation of Tennessee’s felony theft law; the number, financial amount, and frequency of transactions; and referral from a federal agency. Investigators and staff assigned to the Identity Crimes Unit have been training for months to increase skills in the area of identity crimes and collect best practices for this type of investigating from other states.

The unit has created a resource kit for identity theft victims and has linked it to www.tn.gov/safety. Investigators will also participate in programs and events to encourage identity theft awareness, distribute educational materials to safeguard against identity crimes, and encourage the public to take proactive steps to reduce the debilitating impacts of identity crimes.