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NORTH MIAMI (CBSMiami) — North Miami resident Amy Wang would love to get rid of the thick file she’s been sorting for months, but she fears the identify theft mess her family has faced may haunt them for years to come.

“I hate to look. Honestly, it’s been such an ongoing battle and such a nightmare,” says Wang.

According to research firm ‘Javelin’, identity fraud was up 16 percent to a record high 15.4 million new victims in 2016. Though so-called ‘chip cards’ were introduced as a safe way to use credit, they can still be used at less-secure ‘swipe’ card machines. Adding to the problem, a device called a ‘shimmer’ can steal card-user information just like the skimmers often found in the past designed to target swipe cards.

Crooks are simply finding other ways to steal personal information. The most common is account takeover, up 61 percent in 2016. It happened to Wang. Her husband’s Citi card was compromised, and the address changed to a housing project in Northwest Miami-Dade, though the crook didn’t list an apartment number. With stolen information, the fraudster then signed the Wangs up for new credit cards. They started receiving bills for stores like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s totaling more than $20,000. The Wangs became aware of just how much their information had been compromised when their home mail had been forwarded without their knowledge.

“When we got the change of address letter, I didn’t understand the cascade of this at that time, but this became a nightmare, ” says Wang. “This already had been sent out as an automated response to all of our retirement accounts, bank accounts.”

Those documents contain sensitive information that gives crooks what they need to open more accounts. Javelin reports new account fraud is also on the rise.

“That was a pretty persistent thief who obviously had some of their existing account information and was using that, but had some additional information about them and so they were able to open new accounts. That’s just a nightmare for victims,” says Eva Velasquez of the Identity Theft Resource Center, who helped the Wangs sort out the mess they found themselves in.

Velasquez adds, “I am a little bit surprised at the dramatic increase, but I’m not surprised that the thieves are clever and will go and find a way to misuse our information.”

Velasquez blames our desire for convenience for a 40 percent rise in ‘card not present transactions’, like online and mobile shopping.

Velasquez recommends signing-up for monitoring services to catch fraud early, frequently changing passwords, and weighing the risk of online and mobile pay convenience. Meanwhile, Amy Wang believes companies and the US Postal Service need to do more to protect customers, even if it means inconveniencing us to verify our identities.


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