Column by  (@adam_k_levin

Identity theft was the number one consumer complaint at the Federal Trade Commission last year. So far in 2015, the data breach problem that drives so many identity-related crimes has gotten worse. The massive compromises at Anthem and Premera alone put a combined 91 million records in harm’s way.

With more information “out there” than we can possibly know, identity theft has become the third certainty in life, right behind death and taxes. And because so many major compromises include Social Security numbers — the skeleton key to not only your financial life, but also your health care and many other aspects of daily life—the damage can be life-changing.

The bottom line: Be afraid, be very afraid. 

1. A Billion Records Leaked

According to IBM, more than one billion records containing personally identifiable information were leaked in 2014 alone. An identity thief only needs a few data points like the kind found in many data breaches to tap into your financial life.

2. There is No Anonymity

Science Magazine reported that “anonymized meta data sets” containing product purchase information were re-identified with the people who made the purchases by looking at Instagram posts and tweets that matched the purchases.

You can do everything right and still get “got.” The fraudsters out there mining the veins of personal data for financial gain are good at what they do. However, if you assume you are going to get got and take some proactive steps – including monitoring your bank and credit accounts regularly for signs of fraud – in many cases you can have a head start when it actually happens. (Keeping a tight rein on your social media posts and making them private can also help give fraudsters less access to you.)

3. Your Medical History Can Be Compromised

With more than 2.32 million victims thus far — 500,000 last year alone — medical identity theft is a crime on the rise. It can cause medical histories to get changed, and benefits fraudulently used by others can bar a victim from getting medical treatments – making it a dangerous crime.

Your best bet is to check every statement that comes in, and make sure the treatments listed on your Explanation of Benefits summaries sent out by your insurer match the care you’ve received.

4. Your Tax Refund is Under Attack

Early in the 2015, Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, had to shut down e-filing in several states after the company noticed an uptick in what appeared to be fraudulent tax returns.

Tax-related identity theft is a big-money crime, and the statistics prove it. The IRS stopped 19 million suspicious tax returns last year, and stopped more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds. A whopping $5.8 billion in tax refunds were paid out to fraudsters. In 2012, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration projected that fraudsters would net $26 billion into 2017.

For now, your best defense is to file your taxes as early as possible to avoid falling victim to tax-related fraud.

5. Kids Are At Risk.

It’s long been known that children in the foster care system were more likely to become the target of identity-related crimes. This was due to the fact that when children move in with a new foster family, their personally identifiable information moves with them.

A less well known fact is that more than 30 percent of identity theft victims are scammed by family and close friends of the family. The key in these crimes is of course access to the necessary data. No one knows this better than Axton Betz-Hamilton, whose mother defrauded the entire family — father, grandfather and herself — for almost 20 years.

There are services available that protect a child’s credit. It’s also a very nice graduation present to check your child’s credit, and make sure there isn’t a history there.

While it is impossible to avoid some of the fallout from identity theft after it’s detected, it’s not possible to prevent these crimes. If you detect fraud early, it can be contained. And if you follow the three Ms of identity theft management (note that I didn’t say prevention), you can at least have a little piece of mind during this historic crime spree. Minimize, Monitor and Manage. Check your bank and credit card statements every day online to look for fraudulent transactions. You can sign up for free transactional monitoring alerts from banks, credit unions and credit card companies to help in this. Check your credit reports regularly – you can get them for free annually on, and you can get a free credit report summary every month on – to look for unauthorized accounts or changes in existing account balances. File your taxes early, and keep an eagle eye on your medical insurance benefits. Report any suspicious activity immediately to the respective institution so that you can try to minimize the damage.

Make yourself a harder target and know what to do when you become one anyway.

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

Adam Levin is chairman and co-founder of and Identity Theft 911 (FreedomID's Services Provider Partner). His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.



Mortgage Returns, Inc.’s post-close gift will provide FreedomID LifeStages® Identity Management Services to borrowers, including 24/7 dedicated access to a fraud specialist for personalized support with proactive assistance and identity theft recovery services.

FinWell Group today announced they will provide Mortgage Returns, Inc. with FreedomID LifeStages® Identity Management Services as part of the company’s portfolio of concierge services for mortgage companies and professionals. FinWell Group has developed a strategic partnership with Mortgage Returns to offer FreedomID as a unique post-closing gift for borrowers. 

Traditionally, the mortgage industry has provided branded items to their clients that can be perceived as low value. Now, one of the nation’s leading Mortgage CRM and concierge marketing firms is offering their mortgage clients a highly unique service that provides real value and peace of mind to the borrower – FreedomID Lifestages Identity Theft Protection for the entire household. This complimentary service was custom designed for Mortgage Returns and addresses a serious problem in the United States today. The program aims to protect borrowers’ issues related to social media compromise, data breach exposures, fraudulent transactions, and more. Tips to keep your identity safe while moving can be found at

“FinWell Group, LLC has partnered with IDT911™ since 2011 to offer FreedomID Theft Protection Services and we’re excited to offer this unique product to Mortgage Returns customers,” said Mark Norman, President, FinWell Group. “We have offered FreedomID Theft Protection Services as part of our Life in a Box gift program for independent professionals for several years. The opportunity to create and provide this customized product to Mortgage Returns as their exclusive post-close gift is exciting. It’s a perfect fit since the last thing anyone needs during a high stress time of life is an identity theft crisis, and Mortgage Returns is offering an invaluable service to their clients customers to address this need.”

IDT911 fraud specialists provide high-touch service to victims from the initial call through case resolution. Their expertise covers a range of issues, from proactive consumer education, to document replacement, fraud and credit monitoring, and personalized help to cut through the red tape. Fraud specialists work one-on-one with victims and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week until resolution is complete. 

To learn more about FinWell Group’s FreedomID services, visit or call (888) 820-5959.

About IDT911™ 
IDT911™ is the leading provider of services that help businesses and their customers defend against data breaches and identity theft. IDT911’s unique approach—delivering proactive protection, preventive education, and swift resolution—offers unrivaled support for more than 660 client partners and 17.5 million households. With its wholly owned subsidiary, IDT911 Consulting™, IDT911 delivers information security and data privacy expertise to help businesses avert and respond to data loss. Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., the company has several locations in the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Ireland to serve partners in Europe.

About FinWell Group 
Founded in 2010, FinWell Group exclusively offered financial wellness products as a package for group financial wellness benefits. In 2012 the company bundled the products to offer individual professionals a highly unique gift called Life in a Box. Life in a Box is now the primary product sold by FinWell Group to employers, institutions and independent professionals in all 50 states. The product includes multiple co-branding options and is offered at a price point that is reasonable and provides value to the recipient for a lifetime. 

In 2014, FinWell Group began offering FreedomID as a stand-alone product in response to the demand for the current client base. FreedomID can be purchased individually, as a group benefit for employees or as a unique gift for independent professionals such as realtors, financial advisors, accountants and mortgage officers. 

For more information please visit

About Mortgage Returns 
St. Louis-based Mortgage Returns, Inc. is an award-winning database management and automated marketing provider for more than 7,000 loan originators nationwide. Mortgage Returns’ customized marketing solutions increase referrals, cross-sell opportunities and end-to-end prospect management for more than 200 financial institutions. For more information about Mortgage Returns, visit