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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/03/identity-theft-nova-dc-public-safety/
Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s program is about identity theft, and back at our microphones, Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trynova.org. Will’s been at our microphones before, and it’s always a pleasure to have him back. With Will today is Denise Richardson. She is a consumer advocate, ID theft and education specialist, and, again, that’s going to be the meaning of the show. To Will and to Denise, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Will Marling: Hey, thanks, Len.
Denise Richardson: Yes, thank you for having us.
Len Sipes: Now, Denise bear with me for a second. Will and I were talking before the show about a couple things. Number one, Victim’s Rights Week is coming up in April, and I certainly do want to mention that. Also, Will, the National Organization for Victim’s Assistant that has been around since 1975. You now have been given the task of certifying all victims’ advocates within the Department of Defense, correct?
Will Marling: That’s right. Yeah, just a recent decision by the Department of Defense is for us to become the secretariat to certify their victim advocate. So we’re extremely honored, I have to say.
Len Sipes: That is wonderful. That is wonderful and that’s a huge undertaking.
Will Marling: Well, it is. It’s an important one. It’s a demonstration of the military’s commitment to victim assistance, and it’s also their recognition of I think the important work that this organization has done historically as well as today.
Len Sipes: Now you guys have been certifying victim’s rights specialist for quite some time.
Will Marling: We have. The National Organization for Victim Assistance is the secretariat for the National Advocate Credentialing Program. It started in 2003. So that’s a – it’s similar – it’s credentialing certification. It’s all kind of — they look very similar but we provide a credential. We’re the secretariat for that National Allied Professional Credential, and of course we’re honored to be part of that as well.
Len Sipes: Oh, I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s an immense undertaking. But I can’t say that this is immense and it’s not that I’m not excited about that but the Federal Constitutional Victim’s Rights Amendment is back on the radar screen, and I find that to be wonderful. I mean one of the things that the public needs to know is that there are a lot of State Constitutional Amendments for victim’s rights. 36? Correct?
Will Marling: 33 I think technically.
Len Sipes: 33.
Will Marling: Three fifths of our nation’s states, that’s right, have it in their constitution.
Len Sipes: Now, but we tried a federal constitutional amendment, victims’ rights amendment before but it lost just by a couple votes, right?
Will Marling: Well, yeah, the attempt was to start with the Senate, and it was just two votes shy of cloister in the Senate, and of course that stopped it. But we think the momentum, the timing, there’s so many things that have come together today, right now, for a victims’ rights amendment, you know, a 28th amendment to the United States Constitution to affirm victim’s rights. And we’re — to be honest, we think it serves the nation to do this.
Len Sipes: Well, it’s something certainly the hope for it is certainly something to pray for because you know the fact of victims within the criminal justice system – you know, I’ve been around in the system for 42 years. We haven’t done the best of jobs in terms of taking care of victims.
Will Marling: Well, yeah, that’s right. I mean, I many times say the system is designed to get the results that it gets. People just don’t realize that many times it works the way it’s actually designed. So when you think about redesigning it, that’s one dimension. Sometimes it truly doesn’t function meaningfully. And at the end of the day, who’s the biggest stakeholder in this? It really is the victims. There are others impacted including communities. But certainly the victims need to have that voice, and we believe a constitutional amendment in the United States Constitution would provide that social grounding as well as the legal framework for affirming socially the needs of crime victims and the consistent service that they deserve at every level.
Len Sipes: You know I’ve talked to a variety of people who have been in the criminal justice system who victim’s advocacy was something that they were partial to. They certainly were not against it. But it was not first on their radar screen until they or a family member became a victim of crime. When they walked through the experience directly as a victim or being very close to somebody who was a victim of crime, their attitudes changed remarkably.
Will Marling: Absolutely. I mean, it’s the doctor becoming the patient.
Len Sipes: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. All right, but the program today is about undoubtedly theft. It’s one of the things that always is on my mind. It is always on the mind of people throughout the country. And I do want to reintroduce Denise Richardson. She’s a long time consumer advocate and author of “Give Me Back My Credit!” The victim of identity theft herself, Richardson set out to research the effects of this kind of theft and became a certified identity theft management specialist and trained and certified by the National Institute of Fraud and Risk Management. Denise, this concept of identity theft, who within this country does identity theft not touch? You can talk about burglary. You can talk about sexual assault. You can talk about violence. You can talk about theft. And that affects individual pieces of the population. Identity theft, that issue belongs to everybody in the country.
Denise Richardson: It belongs to everyone in our country, and it effects everyone in the world, because, unfortunately, as victims of this crime in this country, a lot of it can come from outside the country, and it makes it really tough on law enforcement to be able to even have the resources or ability to hold them accountable, to stop it. So it allows the crime to just explode and grow in all sorts of ways. From across the country, in the country and it hits everyone. And one thing I’d like to say is congrats, Will, on all of your efforts because NOVA is one of the organizations that stepped out to realize that identity theft is a traumatic event. And it can leave scars, whether they’re visible scars or not, and those scars can serve as a reminder of the pain that can last a lifetime. If somebody has your social security number and is able to commit crimes and do other things in your name, it can literally take a lifetime to get through. So for NOVA to come out and say, yes, this is a traumatic – can be a traumatic crime and there are victims, I just applaud your efforts in doing this.
Len Sipes: www.givemebackmycredit.com is the Website for Denise Richardson. Denise, now, the people listening to this, they are members of the criminal justice system, members of the public. What’s the one thing that we need to know straight from the very beginning of the program? What do we need to understand about identity theft that we don’t understand about it now?
Denise Richardson: One of the frustrating points that I see over and over when I hear from other victims of this crime is that they didn’t know. They didn’t know it could be this bad. They didn’t know this could happen to them. They didn’t know – they had credit monitoring. So they thought just by monitoring their credit reports they would have known. But you wouldn’t know if someone’s hijacked your tax return, if somebody is committing violent crimes in your name. You wouldn’t know this. So, to me, the number one thing is more education on today’s identity theft trends and the types of risks and impact it can have, because often I see it downplayed in the media that, oh, if a stats gone down, if there’s a statistic that’s gone down in one area, you would never – if you look at it this way, you would never say to yourself, “Crime’s gone down in our neighborhood, so I think I’ll leave my doors unlocked now.” And that’s the type of message I think continues to come across because that’s what I hear from the consumers who turn victims and say, “Why didn’t I know about this? I always heard it wasn’t a big thing and the credit card companies would just take care of it for you.” But there’s the problem. Not all the crimes that are committed today are credit related. Yet people are still equating the crime with just America’s credit card and the banks will take care of it for you, so I would say education.
Len Sipes: When we’re talking about identity theft across the board, we’re not just talking about our credit cards. We’re not just talking about our social security number. We’re talking about every little piece of paper that is attached to us. And I had somebody the other day, a pretty prominent person, came to me and said, “Oh, my God, my name and my – where I live and everything else is available on a Website. How could that possibly be?” And I said, “Well, they pull from public records. Have you bought a house?” He says yes. Well, all that information in terms of who you are and where you live is a matter of public information. That’s startling to a lot of people. But so there’s – number one there’s a lot of publicly available information on you out there. We participate in Facebook. We participate in Google Plus. We set up a Google profile. There are public records that apply to us. So from the very beginning people need to understand that a lot of information is publicly available about you off the internet, and thieves can go from there and get the rest of it, correct?
Denise Richardson: Absolutely. And these identity thieves have gotten sophisticated, and if you remember, that’s their job, to sit on Facebook or Twitter or wherever they can get a wide range of information, hack into large databases, whatever it is. And they can take small bits of information that you have on your profile and put it together with other information that’s public, say, your property records or whatever. So they use that information. They sell it to other scammers who use it and then pretend to strike up a conversation with you or know you or connect with you, whatever it may be. A small little bit of information can turn into the key that unlocks the door to every other bit of information, and you wouldn’t even know it.
Len Sipes: Okay, now that we sufficiently scared the dickens out of everybody listening to the program, because I think identity theft is huge. I think it is beyond measurement. Will, do we have a sense as to how many Americans are impacted by identity theft on a yearly basis?
Will Marling: Well, we do. I mean the Consumer Sentinel Network, which is the Federal Trade Commission’s report; they indicate that for 2011 there were 1.8 million complaints. Now what’s important to recognize—
Len Sipes: But not everybody complains.
Will Marling: Well that’s what’s important to recognize. I mean in terms of uniform crime reporting, identity theft is one of those crimes that doesn’t actually get reported. You can sort of speculate and extrapolate. We know it’s a lot worse than that. I mean, come on, partly because you are obligated as a victim to report. Secondly, sometimes law enforcement actually won’t take a report, and even if they do, they might not know what to do with it. But the challenge becomes just even collecting that information. So we always encourage people, tell the FTC, file a police report if you can because at the very least we need to know what’s going on. What’s important to know is that, with the latest report, credit card fraud is only 14 percent of what’s going on here. Government documents benefits fraud is 27 percent. So when people say, “Oh, identity theft is just about credit card, and I had that happen, and the bank said they’d take care of it.” Well that’s another issue. The banks not necessarily going to report for you that there was another identity theft even though that’s what occurred.
Len Sipes: What do you mean by government documents?
Will Marling: Government documents, anything pertaining to a government document, for instance, getting a driver’s license in the name of somebody or getting government services in the name of somebody, filing a tax return in the name of somebody to get a $2,000 refund.
Len Sipes: Do they really do that? They’ll file tax returns?
Will Marling: Oh, absolutely. I mean it’s a great business. It’s a massive business. You know we don’t know exactly. It could be $20 billion worth of business but it’s hard to quantify completely, but absolutely. If they get your name, social security number — you can go online right now and find people’s PDF’s of their tax returns. And so commonly in training I ask people you know, “Raise you hands, how many of you have a PDF of your tax return that says “Tax Return 2010″?” And people raise their hand. Well if you have access to somebody’s computer and you just do a basic search and say “tax return”, and it comes back, I have your tax return plus all your kids, their social security numbers, your spouse. See, I have all of that right there. And what’s a simple way to default that? Well rename that PDF file. It could be one, call it “Grape Juice Recipe” or actually take it off your computer. Put it on a jump drive separate but file it up somewhere. That’s the easiest way to thwart that potential compromise.
Len Sipes: You now I keep – the amazing thing about when we have these conversations about identity theft I say to myself, I’ve been in this system for 42 years. I have four college degrees, university degrees, and you constantly come up with stuff that I never would have thought of in terms of discussing this topic, because our taxes are filed on our computer, and we’ve done exactly what you’ve said. Never crossed my mind to do this. Never crossed my mind to name it grape juice recipe.
Will Marling: Well you’re a smart guy, right? It’s just an awareness issue.
Len Sipes: It is.
Will Marling: I mean that’s what this will confirm.
Len Sipes: That’s what Denise just said. So, Denise, what are the prevention tips we need to get out? Is it okay to go to them that quickly?
Denise Richardson: Well I would just to expand on what Will was saying, to give you an example of how you say you hadn’t heard of this or changing your name. People do not know that their kids who are on Facebook and Twitter and they have their own iPhones and everything, these iPhones are nothing more than a little computer.
Len Sipes: Oh, absolutely.
Denise Richardson: They need to be protected as well. And if your kids are using your home computer and they’re sharing music, your files could be open for sharing everything. And that is a lot of how – you know you could be on a network in your neighborhood coffee shop and if your files are set to open and to share, anyone can get your information. And as far as the income tax fraud, filing fraudulent tax returns, I live in South Florida, and the FDC report that just came out named South Florida as the number one metro area for this type of crime and Florid itself as the number one, again, several years. And it stills strikes me that we – and the FDC came out and said two weeks after tax season opened identity theft crimes jumped 50 percent. And the next day – I mean this was on our front page of the paper every day for a week. In between that time I would read an article online by somebody out there saying, “Do we really have to worry about identity theft? Is it just fear mongering?” And in the meantime I’ve got all these emails from consumers saying, “What do I do? I can’t get my tax return. I plan to pay my property taxes with it.” And so I’m seeing one thing that’s reality in my life every day but then when I read this kind of information I think it is harmful. So I just think we need to send a better message that I think people can learn how to protect themselves better. There’s no way to prevent it, but you can do things and talk to your kids or your neighbors, seniors—
Len Sipes: Okay, I have to break because we’re way past the half way mark and I have to reintroduce both of you, and then we’ll get back to the conversation. Our guests today, ladies and gentlemen, Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, been around since 1975, www.trynova.org. Our other guest is Denise Richardson. She is a consumer advocate and a ID theft and education specialist. Her Website is www.givemebackmycredit.com. Okay, so we’re way into the second half. Either one of you. So again, what we’ve done is scared me, scared all of our listeners. I need to focus on what we can do. Is there one place that we can go to get information about this? Is there a one-stop service? Where do people go to get the information they need?
Will Marling: Well, yeah, let me jump in here. There isn’t one place to go. Of course, the internet offers us access to a lot of different resources quickly, but we try to principalize this so that people build an awareness, because however you instruct people about vulnerabilities, there will always be another tool that’s used by perpetrators, a new technology or whatever. So we talk about raise the fruit. Have you ever heard the phrase “go for the low hanging fruit.”?
Len Sipes: Sure.
Will Marling: We always talk about raise your fruit because make it even that much more difficult. Can that stop it all? No. But why hand them your tax return on a PDF? Why keep all your sensitive documents on your computer when you don’t access them regularly and you can put them on a jump drive and lock them up in a box?
Len Sipes: Well, but there has to be a mantra in terms of all of us simply need to be aware that if our kids are file sharing on computers and the bad guys have access to our computers, there’s got to be a sense that every person that is not known to you, every email, every phone call, every snail mail communication where that person is not known to you, you immediately be suspicious of it. I mean there’s got to be a grounding that we can start people off with.
Denise Richardson: I agree. And I think it is being informed and being alert, being aware that you shouldn’t’ ever give your information to anyone who is soliciting it. And you shouldn’t blindly trust anyone who calls your house. You shouldn’t trust your caller id anymore. You know and I say these things and people will say it’s fear mongering, but there’s where the issue lies. IT’s just simple education and trying to learn what you can do. I don’t expect a consumer out there to know fishing, smishing, vishing, skimming, spoofing, cook jacking, tab napping, all the names that people who work in it every day understand, but I’m all for – what my passion is about is just raising awareness to what you can do, what should you do. You should know about the latest scams. You should know that you shouldn’t put too much information on your profile. You should stop and think before you publish anything. Ask yourself, “If I hit this publish button and it was going to be on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, would I do the same thing?” And you might stop and think about it. You know we tend to hide behind the screen of the computer thinking everything is, oh, just our friends see it. But that’s not the case.
Len Sipes: You mean, just my friends read my Google Plus profile?
Denise Richardson: Well, some people feel that just your friends are getting into your space, into your – you got your settings set one way. But the settings can be changed. They can be hacked. People can use the information you put in your profile. For example, you love lacrosse. You do this. You do that. And they can pretend to have those same exact interests and send you a note and say, “Hey, what school did you go to? This is what I did.” And your guard is down. We tend to trust, and criminals know that, so they take advantage of that trust.
Len Sipes: Hey, you and I are both friends with Will Marling, so obviously I’ve got to be legitimate if you and I share a friendship with Will Marling.
Denise Richardson: I would say so, exactly.
Will Marling: Sure.
Denise Richardson: And that’s what they think because, oh, she was sent – I can not tell you how many times I get a call from even a friend who knows that I work in this industry. Just a couple weeks ago somebody called and said, “I think I got myself in a world of trouble.” I said, “What did you do?” And he said, “I went to Yahoo! And it said that they were protecting me because I didn’t have – I had to re-put in my information, so I did, and then it asked for my social and I—” And I said, “Please tell me that you didn’t give them all that.” He did. So he spent hours changing his PayPal account, this account, that account because then I found out in asking him a few questions, he has the same password. So if a criminal gets a hold of – hacks into one of your passwords, and they’re easy to guess because we have – we use combinations that they figured out through our public information. Just imagine if they hack that one password how much havoc they can create in five minutes time. Check to see if you have a PayPal account, if you have an Amazon account, anything.
Len Sipes: You’ve just made thousands of people very uncomfortable because the research says that’s exactly what we do.
Denise Richardson: And I hope I made them uncomfortable. That’s the point. I want them to go out and say, “Oh, my gosh, I need to change my passwords. I need to strengthen them.” I did a speaking engagement at one point and I asked the people in the audience how many people use the name of their car or where they graduated or what year they graduated in their pass code. And over 75 percent of the people raised their hand. And I then explained why that wasn’t a good idea, and someone said to me, “Oh, my gosh, I do that with all of my passwords. I’ll use my spouses name, my spouse’s birthday, my child’s name, my dogs name because it’s so easy to remember.” Criminals are smart, and they know that. So never – unfortunately you’ve got to come up with ways to have stronger, longer, unpenetratable passwords.
Len Sipes: All right, but the one thing – to me this is the best suggestion of them all and that is is that anytime you get a communication from anybody that is part of your financial world, so you get an email from your bank saying your account’s been compromised. You get a call, an email from your credit card company saying that your account has been compromised. Immediately contact them independently on your own through a number and through a source that you know to be legitimate and then ask that person a question. So never proceed with that initial contact. Always go to the source. I’ve always found that to be the most powerful of them all. Am I right or wrong?
Denise Richardson: You’re absolutely right. You have to do that because a lot of these scams now will appear to come from Go Daddy or Amazon or your bank or even the U.S. Government. And they’ll provide you with here’s the fraud department number to call. We suspect something and people will panic and call that number. What they don’t realize is they’re calling right into the thief. So always – so never use a phone number, and your bank is not going to email you about something like that.
Len Sipes: Yeah, but people don’t know. I mean—
Denise Richardson: Right.
Len Sipes: –we got a phone call the other day about our credit card being misused. And the point is that my wife had a conversation with the credit card company regarding that, and it was very legit and very straightforward, but my wife shouldn’t have done that. My wife should have hung up and called the credit card company back.
Denise Richardson: Well because sometimes what happens when they call you, they have quite a bit of information on you already, and that tends to make consumers think, oh, yes, that’s my bank because how would they know that? But if it really is, your bank is going to understand if you say, “You know what, I’m concerned about identity theft. So let me hang up and call you through the number that I have for you. Do you have a particular extension?” Something like that. Or if it’s legit your bank should be able to tell you your password on that account, tell you everything you want to know, not the other way around where you have to confirm it with them. I recently had the same thing happen to me with my bank calling about another credit card fraud. But today the criminals are getting even more savvy with telephone calls, using the phone to hook you into falling for anyone of their many scams. So if someone calls you, never give out information.
Len Sipes: If you post on Facebook that you’re going to Florida and then the scammer calls you up and say you know there’s –evidently you’re in Florida and you have problems with your credit card, you immediately assume that this is legitimate.
Denise Richardson: Exactly and I always tell people, oh my gosh, stop telling people where you are every minute of the day because people have been being robbed because they watch this. If they have enough information and they know where you live and here’s a picture of me, I’m sitting a thousand miles away on a sunny beach. We’re all here on vacation. There was just a story in the news not too long ago where the teenage daughter didn’t know that she was giving out any information like that that she shouldn’t and said “Oh, we’re at the airport. She text right at the airport, “We’re getting on the plane.” Well her friend posted it and a friend of that friend, they tracked it back to because they did catch the people, robbed their house while they were gone.
Len Sipes: Denise we have one minute left. What point do we need to make that we haven’t made in one minute?
Denise Richardson: That there are available – there’s information out there, and the best way that you can avoid becoming a crime victim is to be informed, look out for the risks and know the impact and have a plan of action.
Len Sipes: Yeah, but there’s so much to know.
Denise Richardson: There is. I mean you can’t possibly learn it in one moment. You can go to the FTC.gov site. They have a lot of information. Will’s site, I’m sure, does. My site at – on my site I have areas, categories for the current scams. I try to keep that up-to-date, the types of risk, what to do if you’re a victim. So there’s definitely information out there. And here’s something. If you’re ever in doubt, you get an email that you think might be a scam, type it in your browser. Chances are people have already written about it and learned about it.
Len Sipes: Well that’s a wonderful idea. All right. Our guests today and in terms of summarizing and it’s a lot to summarize, Will Marling, Executive Director, National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trynova.org. Also with our theft identity – identity theft expert, Denise Richardson. She’s a consumer advocate and an ID theft and education specialist. Her Website is www.givemebackmycredit.com. It seems as if the Federal Trade Commission just Google or your favorite search engine, Federal Trade Commission and look for consumer fraud or identity theft, and there’s information there. What I heard today was about file sharing in terms of especially in terms of your kids and downloading music or file sharing, relabeling your computer files to be sure that if you’re hacked that the person won’t go and find your important documents. Be careful with social media in terms of what public information you make public, change your passwords, go to the source if you get a call from somebody or contact from somebody. Don’t continue with that. Just hang up and go to that source independently so you know that it is legitimate. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. Have yourselves a very pleasant day.