Last week, I hosted a community discussion on identity theft. Our expert that evening was the Director of the Identity Theft Council. The meeting was filled with shock, drama and some hope at the end.
The stats are brutal: 1 million people are victims of identity theft each month in the USA. If we only look at property crimes in 2011, there were more victims of identity theft than all burglaries, attempted burglaries, arson, vehicle theft, purse snatchings, pick-pocketings, check fraud and shoplifting combined.
Out of the 12 million incidents in the USA last year, only 1 percent were investigated and an even smaller portion of that 1 percent is caught and prosecuted. Identity theft is the number one complaint to the FTC for 12 years in a row. One reason for such a low investigation rate across the country is the jurisdictional issues—the victim may live in Denver but the multiple offenses were done in other states or countries.
The speaker at our meeting said that if your social security number is stolen, you will endure years of pain dealing with debt collectors because the Social Security administration will not do anything to resolve this issue. The new trend with stolen social security numbers is to file false tax returns and make up information that enables a tax refund check to be mailed to a temporary address. The IRS lost $5 billion last year in fraudulent tax returns and the IRS expects to lose the same amount this coming year.
Recently, an organized crime ring in Florida was caught. They stole approximately $130 million, which seems more profitable than drug dealing. Sadly, a Florida postal carrier was killed so the assailants could get a postal key that opens up mailboxes. Closer to home, in San Ramon, a corner mailbox drop was recently ripped out of the concrete by a car with attached chains to steal mail within the mailbox.
When it comes to online shopping, there has been a breach of personal information every day for the last five years, and these are the companies that will admit a breach has occurred. Millions of people have had their personal information exposed via these breaches.
Now for the glimmer of hope. How can we avoid becoming a victim?
Freeze your credit
Consumers may call the three credit agencies (Transunion, Experian,Equifax) and have their credit frozen. This blocks anyone from opening a new line of credit with your credit history. Once your credit is frozen you will no longer need to monitor your credit for anything odd. You may unfreeze with a pin number that will be provided to you by each credit agency.
Do not use ATM machines for anything but withdrawing money
Only use credit card at stores to charge something, not an ATM card. (The reason is a stolen ATM card number drains money out of your own account versus charging the credit card company.)
File your tax returns early
This helps prevent someone from filing a fraudulent return using your social security number. The IRS only verifies the SS# and not the address or employer.
Only use one computer or device to access online banking
And avoid unsecured WiFi.
Avoid using banks “Apps”
Technology still needs to improve.
For passwords, choose a sentence that contains proper nouns and numbers rather than a password.
This type of sentence has everything you need to make it unbreakable with capital letters and numbers. Tweak/change your sentence password phrase periodically.
Do not send money or share personal data via email with your new friend from Nigeria, as this and others like it our scams.
At this point in time the best web browser is Microsoft IE, which identifies 96 percent malware while Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox detect less than 10 percent of malware. Apple Safari was not mentioned. Even free Anti-Virus software is effective like AVG, Panda & Immunet.
Instead of shopping online, purchase items at stores in San Jose.
Avoid signing up for identity/credit services like LifeLock that make big promises when all you need to do is freeze your credit.
When disposing of a computer or PDA, strip the device of all data.
Use a crosscut shredder for your financial documents before disposing.
If you have already implemented a strong password phrase for your email, then go paperless with your current paper financial statements.
An ounce of prevention is worth peace of mind.
On Another Note:
If you enjoy theater with strong and complex dialogue, then I highly recommend the David Mamet play, “Race” now being performed at the San Jose Stage Company.
Pierluigi Oliverio is a San Jose councilmember for District 6.