On Your Side: Attorney General Identity Theft Unit can help victims

Identity theft has become so common in Ohio, the Attorney General created a special unit to help identity theft victims get things straightened out.

Shawna McGreevy's trip down the identity theft rabbit hole began with an E-receipt she received from Macy's.

"So I opened it and her it was for a $3,000 diamond solitaire ring at the Battlefield Mall [in] Springfield, Missouri," she said.

She immediately called the store saying there was a mistake. She wasn't in Missouri. She was in Columbus.

"And they said somebody had walked into the store, selected a ring and told the clerk that she did not have her card with her. So, she presented them with an I.D. that had my name and address on it and then entered my social security number and it was at that point that I thought, 'oh, this isn't a mistake, this is gonna be bigger than that,," she said.

She filed a police report. Then she woke up the next morning to alerts from a credit monitoring agency. Someone was pretending to be Shawna, opening one charge card after another.

"Missouri, and then Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma. They were making this big swing, moving you know, it seemed like every few hours they were in a different location, filling out credit applications and attempting to get credit and using the entire amount of credit available each time. So, if they were awarded $8,000, it was an $8,000 charge immediately," said McGreevy.

She knew she needed help and called the Ohio Attorney General Identity Theft Unit.

"Since 2012, the Identity Theft Unit's been able to help clear $1.8 million in fraudulent debt that these victims were originally held responsible for but now are no longer responsible for," said Melissa Smith, the Director of the Identity Theft Unit.

She said last year, more than 1,000 Ohioans complained that they were identity theft victims.

"The big thing we offer is we offer free assistance to contact creditors, collectors, credit reporting agencies so that these victims really have a place to start and they have an advocate for them to say that this is an allegation of identity theft. Please help us clear this up," Smith said.

The McGreevys were not responsible for the $15,000 to $20,000 in debt the crooks wracked up. But Shawna worries, knowing somebody, somewhere has her social security number.

"It's out there. So yes, I monitor my credit religiously right now. I'm always looking at my accounts. Yeah, I'm just aware, because absolutely, it's out there," she said.

McGreevy recommends signing up for E-receipts or texts with all your credit cards. You'll get instant notification if a purchase is made on one of your cards. In addition, four banks provide credit cards for most retailers. McGreevy also recommends notifying Synchrony Financial, CitiBank, Bank of America and Comenity if your identity is stolen. They can put a block on your social security number so nobody can open credit in your name at any retailer.

The Attorney General can help identity theft victims get things resolved. The agency also offers a free self-help kit victims can use if they prefer to do it themselves.

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