Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America in the past two decades. In fact, last year it was the number one complaint category according to the FTC, with 12.7 million victims of identity fraud in 2014.  The scary thing is that in 66% of the cases, the bank or other financial institution did not notify the victim, the victim noticed it and notified the bank! So we must be vigilant in monitoring our statements.

I know from personal experience how hard it can be to go through identity theft. When I first moved to Oahu in 2005, I had all of my sensitive information in one bag—my credit cards, my checkbooks, my passport, my social security card my laptop with all my data (I’ve since learned to back things up)—and it got stolen. They used my credit cards to buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of gasoline and fast food. They used my social security number to call my credit card company, impersonate me, and set up a PIN for cash advances. They took out the maximum cash on the cards from the ATM. They also took personal items of sentimental value from close friends and relatives that I had treasured for years. Thankfully, it was late night and my bank customer service department was closed so they couldn’t establish a new PIN for my debit card or withdraw funds from my checking and savings accounts. It could have been worse, they could have opened new credit cards in my name that I would have had to track down. The reality is if they kept my social security number, they could still cause me problems today, 10 years later.

So what happens when your information has been compromised? Usually the scammers take advantage of your identity by committing credit card fraud, applying for new credit in your name, withdrawing money from your bank account, using your telephone cards or using your credit for phone and other utilities, using your health insurance for medical benefits or having the hospital bill you for their medical treatments, using your social security number for employment fraud or tax fraud—sometimes even receiving your tax refund!

Here are the first things to do if you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft:

  • Call one of the credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian, and put a fraud alert on your credit report. The first one you call will notify the others and the fraud alert will require that they take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit for 90 days. A more drastic measure would be to request a security freeze with each of the three credit bureaus (you have to call each one separately). This will automatically deny any new credit applications for you so if you want to apply for credit in the near future you should find out what the procedures are for thawing out your security freeze with each bureau.
  • Contact your financial institutions. Start with the banks or other financial companies with your accounts that you know were affected. If you don’t notify them right away, in some cases you could be liable for the extension of credit and losses or be unable to recoup your stolen money.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission to file an Identity Theft Affidavit and create an Identity Theft Report. You can reach them online at https://www.identitytheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-ID THEFT (1-877-438-4338).
  • File a Police Report. You’ll need the local law enforcement police report to complete your FTC Identity Theft Report.
  • Finally, Protect your Social Security Number. Contact the Social Security Administration and the IRS if you think your Social Security Number has been compromised even if no fraud has occurred yet. They might use your number for tax or employment fraud.

When I had my identity and things stolen, I was disheartened, depressed, and in short, really bummed out. I felt so violated! For most of the next day, I was dragging through my work responsibilities while this weighed heavily on my mind. Then my dad gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever taken from him. He said: “I’m sorry this happened to you. That must feel really horrible. Those thugs already got your things, but don’t let them take anything else from you. Don’t let them take your happiness too!”

I realized he was right. I couldn’t do anything about my stuff at that point…but I could still control my attitude. And being bummed about it wasn’t going to hurt them, only myself. So with that thought in mind, I went through the process of making a police report and protecting my credit through the steps I outlined above. If any of you have experienced this, my heart goes out to you, but don’t let those thugs take your happiness too!


Honolulu Office  (808) 593-8885

Hilo Office          (808) 935-3344


Ethan R. Okura received his Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree from Columbia University in 2002.  He specializes in Estate Planning to protect assets from nursing home costs, probate, estate taxes, and creditors.


This column is for general information only.  The facts of your case may change the advice given.  Do not rely on the information in this column without consulting an estate planning specialist.