By JOSH THALL
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan residents suffer the nation’s sixth-highest rate of identity theft, and the approaching April 15 tax deadline makes people particularly vulnerable, officials said.
Tax filing season leads to increased IRS scams, as people working on their taxes respond to fake requests out of fear of getting on the bad side of government, said Marco Jones, a community service trooper for the Michigan State Police, Lansing post.
“Those (cases) are being reported to agencies across the state,” Jones said. “People will call and misrepresent themselves as a member of the IRS, basically trying to strongarm people over the phone, trying to get their information.”
People can protect themselves by refusing to give personal information over the phone and double-checking the source in mail and email communications, Jones said. Confirming mail communications with a phone call to the agency can also help.
Michigan has 104 identity fraud complaints per 100,00 people, sixth highest in the country, according to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission. In 2008, Michigan was at 19th in the country at 83 complaints per 100,000 people.
“I think it is a big issue, and I think it is getting bigger,” said Mark Hornbeck, associate state director of the AARP. “As internet hackers are getting more and more sophisticated and bold, the internet is becoming the primary way identity theft is committed today. But there are still more rudimentary methods, like going through someone’s garbage.”
Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, sponsored a bill that was signed into law last term allowing victims of suspected identity theft to put a credit freeze on themselves so thieves can’t build debt in their name.
“Any theft of identity can be tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage in the long run, as one tries to recover their identity and undo the damage that’s been done,” Proos said.
But Proos said it’s better to prevent identity theft than to try to recover from it.
“I think education is the best place to start,” Proos said. “We provide information to the constituents, related to where they can file complaints, and I do multiple weekly columns in newspapers in my southwest Michigan district.”
Shredding important documents, checking your financial accounts regularly for unusual activity, and being careful not to click Internet links or open emails from people you don’t know are the main defenses Hornbeck offers against ID theft.
Michigan State Police posts across the state are always working to ensure their residents are informed and diligently checking for identity theft, Jones said.
“The Michigan State Police is using all of our available trooper and community service troopers to get the message out,” Jones said. “We are constantly getting information out, through news releases, or just word of mouth that people need to be vigilant in guarding their identity.”
Proos said the people most vulnerable to identity theft are older citizens and young people just learning to handle credit. But Hornbeck noted there is not data on one age group being targeted more than others.
“Identity theft knows no age,” Hornbeck said. “Our victims of identity theft are not confined to seniors, its not confined to people in their early 20s — it’s pervasive throughout all age groups.”
By JOSH THALL