| Guest columnist
As if the impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus on our health, families, livelihoods and communities are not enough, there is a growing pandemic threat that has emerged and is affecting more people every day.
This threat involves identity theft. Thieves are stealing personal information, including Social Security numbers, and applying for unemployment benefits or accessing credit cards or other financial accounts.
This crime has become so prevalent that the Worthington Division of Police is taking reports nearly every day from residents who have become victims of identity theft.
Identities are stolen and used to file fraudulent unemployment claims in both the traditional unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs.
Many people only realize they have had their identity stolen and used for an unemployment claim when they receive a 1099-G tax form or other official correspondence in the mail from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
If you receive a 1099-G form, letter or notification about benefits you didn’t apply for, you should take action immediately. You can call the ODJFS Ohio Unemployment Benefits Identity Theft Hotline at 833-658-0394 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, or you may file an online report with ODJFS at unemploymenthelp.ohio.gov/IdentityTheft.
Officials also advise anyone who has been a victim of fraud to place a fraud alert on one’s credit report. This makes it harder for someone to open credit accounts in your name.
Other signs to look for to determine if you might be a victim of identity theft include finding inaccurate personal information or unfamiliar accounts on your credit report, being contacted by collectors about debts you do not owe, receiving mail or bills related to unfamiliar accounts, seeing a sudden drop in your credit score or being denied credit for no apparent reason. It is important to monitor your credit report closely because this is a good way to recognize when there is something wrong.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office offers these prevention tips to protect your personal information:
• Do not share photos or information on social media that include your date of birth, address or any other personal information. This includes photos of COVID-19 vaccination cards that contain personal information. Share a photo of the vaccination sticker instead.
• Never share personal information with anyone who contacts you unexpectedly.
• Never carry unnecessary personal information, such as your Social Security card, in your wallet or purse.
• Shred all outdated documents containing personal information; don’t just throw them in the trash.
• Regularly update your computer software and mobile apps.
• Use internet passwords that are hard to guess and change them regularly. Passwords should be at least 12 characters and include capital and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.
• Set a passcode on your smartphone.
• When entering personal information online, make sure a website is secure by looking for the “s” in “https.”
• Don’t conduct private business on public Wi-Fi.
• Make copies of your credit cards and store them securely so you can call to cancel them quickly if they go missing.
• If a bill fails to arrive, contact the company as soon as you notice the delay. Thieves sometimes steal information from mailboxes or reroute bills.
More identity theft resources are available at ohioattorneygeneral.gov/IdentityTheft.
We encourage you to stay vigilant and stay safe as we continue to navigate this pandemic crisis and look out for each other during these difficult times.
Robert Ware is chief of the Worthington Division of Police.