Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna visited Redmond’s Overlake Christian Church last week in conjunction with the GUARD IT! Washington campaign to prevent identity theft.
He told the story of a young woman who worked in his office and attended a community college. She was shocked to get a phone call saying she was behind on her payments — on a car she hadn’t purchased. She learned someone had also opened more than 30 credit card accounts in her name.
That’s how identity theft very often occurs, McKenna warned.
1. “It was an inside job, information taken out of her community college file.”
2. “The thief was a drug addict.”
3. “The thief shared her information with an identity theft ring to open new accounts because it takes longer for the victim to find out.”
He continued, “Identity theft starts, two-thirds of the time, when one of us loses control of our personal information. In one-third of cases, a trusted person or organization loses control of your information.”
Lost or stolen wallets are a major factor. Others are fraudulent e-mails from someone who is “phishing” for your information, mail theft and “dumpster diving” (someone looking through your trash for sensitive documents).
Laptop computers, taken out of cars, are another rich source of information. And identity theft can occur when security at an office in a school or hospital — “any enterprise that maintains lots of your personal and sensitive data” — is breached.
The GUARD IT! Washington effort is “greatly about education but also increasing law enforcement task forces” to crack down on identity thieves, said McKenna.
LEGIT, Washington’s Law Enforcement Group (Against) Identity Theft, is a collaborative effort between legislators, police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, security experts and private sector associations. The LEGIT task force came up with the idea for statewide shred-a-thon events, including one at Overlake Christian Church, and drafted a bill which allows citizens to freeze their credit history as needed.
Also, the Attorney General’s Office requested three bills for the 2008 legislative session — to require police to take reports from identity theft victims, allow prosecutors to bring separate charges for each use of someone else’s personal information and to allow records provided by out-of-state businesses to be authenticated by affidavit.
Explaining how he has also created a high-tech computer lab to see how spyware is being used to obtain information, he added, “The Internet is the Wild West but there’s a new sheriff in town.”
And almost all investigations of such crimes begin with consumer tips, McKenna stated.
Lisa Erwin, senior counsel and Seattle Section Chief of the Attorney General of Washington’s office and Jean Mathisen of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) Fraud Fighter call center, presented some basic ways to protect yourself from identity theft.
• Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
• Photocopy your Medicare card and cross the number off of the copy. Keep the letters A or B that are on the card, then put the copy into your wallet. Keep the original card in a safe place at home so you can pick it up when you have a medical appointment.
• Don’t give out personal information over the phone, unless you are positive of the caller’s legitimacy.
• Don’t carry PIN numbers or account passwords in your wallet.
• Only carry what you really need in your wallet and know where to call if a credit card or other identification is lost or stolen.
• Check your mail promptly each day, consider a locking box and stop mail when you go on vacation. Also watch out for missed bills that could have been stolen.
• Don’t put outgoing mail in your box. “Putting up that red flag on the box is like Bob Barker yelling, ‘Come on down! I’ve got something good for you to look at!” said Mathisen.
• Use strong/hard-to-memorize passwords for your computer (not your kid’s or pet’s name!), don’t save passwords online or tape them to the front of your computer — and shut down your computer when you’re not using it.
• If you get an e-mail that just “looks wrong,” delete it. Don’t “click here to unsubscribe” because you may be unwittingly opening yourself up to spyware.
• Use a cross-cut shredder to shred personal documents before you dispose of them.
• If you know or suspect that someone has unlawfully obtained your personal information, call credit reporting agencies immediately, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and file a police report and get a copy of it.
For more information, call the Washington Attorney General’s office at 1-800-551-4636 or visit www.atg.wa.gov. Information is also available through the AARP Foundation, 1-888-ID-THEFT or www.consumer.gov/idtheft.