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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/05/identity-theft-nova-dc-public-safety-radio/
Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our program today, ladies and gentlemen, identity theft and scams, and back by popular demand, Will Marling the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trynova.org, and Denise Richardson, she is a consumer advocate and an ID theft education specialist. She is at www.givemebackmycredit.org, and to Denise and to Will, welcome back to DC Public Safety.
Will Marling: Thank you Leonard. Good to be with you.
Denise Richardson: Thank you Len.
Len Sipes: Well, it’s always a lot of fun. I mean I was laughing hard right before I hit the record button because we have such a good time because I’m amazed all the time as to the new things both of you come up with in terms of what’s happening with identify theft, what’s happening with computer-related theft, what’s happening with fraud. But—well, before getting into all that, where are we with the constitutional amendment? At the last program, we were talking about a federal constitutional amendment regarding victim’s rights and set the stage for that most of the states in the United States do have a constitutional amendment protecting the rights of victims and now what we’re doing is going for a federal constitutional amendment, correct?
Will Marling: That’s right. Thirty-three of 50 states in our United States have constitutional amendments in the state constitutions. There’s a lot of story and history and research behind all this, but we know now’s the time to have a thorough and consistent constitutional amendment for victims. Twenty three rights for the accused in our United States Constitution, of course, appropriate to that need, but zero for victims of crime and so we see the need to change that.
Len Sipes: Well, it’s—what do you think the odds are of actually getting it through? I mean any constitutional amendment, if anybody knows anything about constitutional history; they know that amendments don’t come easy. It sometimes takes a long time to get a constitutional amendment through the United States Constitution. What are the odds of this actually happening?
Will Marling: Odds are high. I’ll tell you why. First of all, we’ve been working on this, not just for months, but 20 years or more and this has made its run on numerous occasions and has not made it for different reasons, but now is the time, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, the country needs this. We need a social change perspective about the needs and rights of victims. Secondly, we’re in a unique period where the change is afoot. We’re going into a big election year.
Len Sipes: Yes, we are.
Will Marling: And as well, I mean most legislatures aren’t gonna stand against victim’s rights. They know intuitively that’s the right thing—
Len Sipes: Especially during an election year.
Will Marling: Yeah, and so, but there—we believe they’re gonna stand with this. It’s really building the momentum and making the case, which is appropriate for legislators to understand that this is—the amendment reads well. It reads like a constitutional should and it reflects the constitutional rights that people inherently think should be there. I mean, I use this example, if I might, just historically, most people knew that slavery was wrong. They just knew it was wrong, and yet we had to have a constitutional change for rule of law and will firm what every—but what most people already knew. Even people involved in it knew that it was wrong—same thing with voting. I mean, women were not given the right to vote until not that long ago. We all inherently knew that women should vote, but we needed to change the constitution. People in the United States know inherently that victims should have rights, and that’s why we simply need to inculcate that in the United States Constitution as with many other social needs and social issues and rights and so forth.
Len Sipes: Ladies and gentlemen, the National Organization for Victim Assistance is one of the oldest and one of the most respected organizations in the United States in terms of victim assistance. They’ve been at this for how many years Will?
Will Marling: Since 1975.
Len Sipes: Since 1975. And as member of the criminal justice system, when you get that call from, you know, somebody from the National Organization for Victim Assistance it’s like, oh my heavens, what did we do or what did we not do. So you all have the clout. You all have the reputation. In fact, your reputation is so good you’re now training everybody in the Department of Defense certifying their victim assistance people.
Will Marling: Well, that’s so kind of you Len.
Len Sipes: No, it’s true. It’s true. I just wanna make sure that everybody understands the prestige of a National Organization for Victim Assistance. You all have done fantastic work. And again, for the curious, because most people associate your organization with victims of rape and robbery and other violent crimes, you got involved in this issue of identity theft because of why?
Will Marling: We got involved because we were starting to get calls for assistance, we have a toll-free victim assistance line, and we started to get these calls, and we weren’t really sure what to do with them historically; violent crime was our particular area of expertise, and we realized, now wait a minute. There’s something going on here and, of course, we got involved and said, let’s do something about it. Have—work to focus on remediation, victim assistance, but it’s also opened our eyes that identity theft, and the cyber issues that we’re focusing on actually touch many other crime victimization areas like domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking. These electronic tools can become electronic weapons much like anything else.
Len Sipes: It’s all intertwined.
Will Marling: It’s all intertwined, yep.
Len Sipes: And give me the example that you were talking about before I hit the record button. I find this astounding that you were talking to a grandmother whose supposed son called her. This isn’t done via e-mail; it’s not done via a letter, but they actually called the grandmother basically saying, hi. It’s me. It’s Chris, and I’m down here, and I’ve got into a jam, and I need for you to send me $500, and they got all the information they needed to make the story credible off of a Facebook page.
Will Marling: That’s exactly right. This is a common scenario. Somebody gets a call. They purport to be a relative, like a grandchild, they speak English articulately and so the thresholds for questioning that can be lowered as the person says, okay, this might be my grandchild and because the child is in need or purports to be in need, that, of course—that concern also can lower that questioning, that discernment. Because if your grandchild is in trouble, and they’re only asking for 500 bucks to get out of a—to deal with a speeding ticket that they achieved in Canada, then you’re more likely to say, well, okay it’s, you know, it’s—I want to help my grandchild.
Len Sipes: And if you go on the Facebook page, and if you’re getting all this information, you know, and you know that they prefer to be called by their grandkids, grandmommy, and grandmommy, look, you know, I really, you know, need you, you know, I know you’re all the way down there in Baltimore, but I need for you—I mean, you know, they can throw in information that makes it—makes the call come alive.
Will Marling: Well, absolutely. And here’s the thing. Thirty-three percent, according to the recent research from Javelin, 33%—I think it’s 31 actually—31% of people put their full year and birthday on there. So you know exactly how old somebody is. It’s not just the—so there’s a test for an older generation person who’s probably gonna have grandchildren and then if you have all this other information, you can add those things today simply to become seemingly more credible.
Len Sipes: Yep, looking forward to seeing you on your birthday in July.
Will Marling: Yeah, exactly.
Len Sipes: Yep.
Will Marling: Yeah.
Len Sipes: Amazing. Denise Richardson, consumer advocate ID theft, education specialist, Denise we’ve really enjoyed in the audience, really enjoyed your participation the last time. It was really interesting. You come up with some of the most interesting things. Give me your perspective as to what Will just had to say. You know it’s startling to me. I know about e-mail frauds. I know about phishing schemes. I know about letter—kind of contacts by letter, but it takes a tremendous amount of gull to pick up the phone and call somebody.
Denise Richardson: It does and as Will was saying, you know identity theft takes many different forms, and they can—these bad guys have gotten very good at what they do and I always come at it from the perspective of my own life experiences, the consumers that come to me and tell me their stories, the consumers that share their stories on my blog, and though they always seem amazed that they had heard of this latest scam, I continue to be amazed at how little information is out there until someone has already been tripped up by it and fallen victim to it. My own mom—I share my own life experiences too because I encourage other people to, but I shared not too long ago a situation that happened to my mom several weeks ago where her first thing she said to me when I answered the phone was you’re not going to like this. And I thought, oh know. And she proceeded to tell me that, you know, she had started seeing a new doctor, and she lives, you know, in a different state, and she started seeing a new doctor and so, when she got a call from someone asking for her information, in her mind, because she’s an elderly senior, she thought it was Medicare.
Len Sipes: Right.
Denise Richardson: And so, when she gave little bits of information, oh, are you calling about my Medicare bill, of course, they’re gonna go along with what she gives them, and she ended up giving them her social security number and other information, which, of course, immediately I knew why she said I wasn’t gonna like it. But one of the things I found out in this particular telemarketing scam, it led me to learn something that came—you know when you think you see it all—my mom was particularly stressed out by this and scared, rightfully so, that she did this.
She was upset with herself, but in order to try to correct it quickly it made her more panicked and there’s no easy way to contact the Credit Bureau and incidentally you know, notify them, put a fraud alert on. Because if you’ve ever tried, you get these automated, you know, most places now you get these long menus that you call and that just intimidated her and made her more upset, so there needs to be some sort of way that, especially seniors or even, you know, more challenged vulnerable people in our communities, our families, have a way to access someplace quickly to notify that you’ve become a victim.
Len Sipes: Okay, let’s just get into prevention measures. We go into a thousand different directions every time we talk—because I want to get back to this concept of the fact that people are calling, and you take a look at your caller ID, and it shows a local number, which gives it credibility. In one case, it gives the identification of the local police department who is calling you to say that you have unpaid parking tickets, and then you’re looking at your caller ID, and it says, well, you know, Baltimore Police Department and you assume that this is not fraudulent, but first—I mean let’s go back. Bottom line is don’t give out any information over the phone period. They’re not gonna call you. Reputable organizations are not going to call you. Is that the first rule?
Denise Richardson: Absolutely. And do not trust your caller ID. The caller ID—there’s a term—it’s being coined spoofing. They can spoof your caller ID and cause the display to be any entity they want. They could be calling from another country, and it could say the name of a bank, a credit union, or an electric company.
Len Sipes: So, just because it comes up as a legitimate, excuse me, as a legitimate identifier on your caller ID, does not mean it’s legitimate. The bottom line is don’t give out information over the phone. If your bank calls you, you say thank you very much, what is your name, what is your telephone number, and then you go and look up a number that you know is a correct number—that there is no question that it’s a correct number and then you call them.
Denise Richardson: Sure, check on your latest billing statements. You can look it up in the phone book, but call the number that you know is legitimate, and it really is someone calling from your bank or from some institution that you do business with and you tell them, you know, I’m a little leery of identity theft, I’d like to call you back. They’re going to say certainly, on that extension 1324. You can go look up the number and then when you get that specific legitimate company—
Len Sipes: But don’t call them back at that number though.
Denise Richardson: No, no. Never call them back at the number that you receive in an e-mail, text, or voice mail or on the phone. Look up the number first.
Len Sipes: Will, was it you or Denise, who said that there really was a scam where supposedly the police department called about unpaid parking tickets, and the name of the police department popped up on the caller ID?
Will Marling: Yep, yep. We have those cases. Indeed, yeah.
Len Sipes: My God, that’s so wrong on so many levels and could be so disastrous to the well-being of human beings. What if you got a call from the local police department saying, come out now and come down to the station, we need to talk about something, and if I saw the local police department up on my phone I’d probably do it. I mean I keep saying to myself, I’ve been involved in the criminal-justice system for over 40 years, and you keep telling me stuff that even I would buy into, and I don’t trust anybody.
Will Marling: Right. Well, the issue here that Denise is making—the point that she is making, as well as I make, is that the basic issue of paying attention. Just paying attention and asking some questions on the very front end is completely appropriate. For credible legitimate people calling, which seems to become rarer and rarer, they’re gonna be willing to cooperate. But for others, you know, they’re gonna try to talk you into some quick decision, get information out of you as quickly as possible because they might be nearby, but to be honest, they might be in another country, and you don’t know where they are.
Len Sipes: Mm-hmm.
Will Marling: I mean it can get really complicated that way.
Len Sipes: Mm-hmm. All right—
Denise Richardson: They’re very tricky at what they do and make sure when you hang up the phone with them that you hang up and pick the phone back up and hear your dial tone because there’s been instances where they have stayed on the line, and someone picks up the phone, and you’re dialing your number, but you really still have the scammer on the other end of the phone.
Len Sipes: Oh, this is too amazing. We’re half way through the program, ladies and gentlemen. Are we all frightened now? We’re half way through the program with—
Denise Richardson: And I’m glad you said that Len, because really, and I know Will feels the same way—these are not stories. These are factual things that we hear from people who contact us, but in order for us to share this information, some people may say well, you’re scaring us, but really the only way you can get this information out there is—
Len Sipes: This is vital information. People need to hear this.
Denise Richardson: And often times they don’t understand it with just, you know, shred your documents or whatever. They need to hear about the types of scams that come across where they could easily fall for them. Like you said, you’re a very intelligent man. You’ve been in the justice system and you—there’re so savvy that they could even trick you.
Len Sipes: It would fool me, and that’s the thing that scares me. All right, let me reintroduce both of you. Ladies and gentlemen, more than half way through the program, Will Marling the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trynova.org. Denise Richardson, she is a consumer advocate and an ID theft education specialist, www.givemebackmycredit.org. Both of those websites will be in the show notes. All right, where do we go to from here? What’s new on the identity theft and fraud horizon Denise?
Denise Richardson: Well, the types and varying trends. A lot of what I’m seeing and hearing—you know, we—we’re telling people don’t give your information to strangers, don’t give your information to people who call you, e-mail you, or come door-to-door, but you also need to be aware that whatever information you are giving, sometimes to trusted individuals, does not mean that you’re immune from an identity theft. In a lot of situations lately, especially where I live in Florida which is number one on the list always for all sorts of fraud unfortunately, and I think it can be somewhat attributed to if you are a criminal do you want to live in, you know, in a populated where—
Len Sipes: Do you like snow or do you not like snow.
Denise Richardson: Exactly, exactly. So we’re accustomed to all sorts of scams and frauds, but we’re number one because we still are gonna fall for it, but not only that. You go into hospitals. You give your information to hospital employees. Think of all the places you give your information to trusted individuals, whether they’re bank tellers, whether they work in a government office. Each of those—
Len Sipes: Your cable company.
Denise Richardson: Exactly. Each of those places—I could point you to actual arrests of rouge employees in those particular businesses who have sold the business or the organization’s information.
Len Sipes: How do you stop that? All right, I mean I—everything else falls under the umbrella of do not reactively give information to anybody under any circumstances regardless as to how credible they seem. Thank the person, stop the e-mail, stop the phone call, put down the letter, and contact that entity through a number that you know is valid. That’s the number-one rule. So in terms of those people who legitimately get our information, how do you stop that?
Denise Richardson: Well, you know, and Will may have a different view on this, but my view is you can’t stop that because you never know when any company out there is gonna have a data breach or how—or if there’s gonna be an insider who is approached by an ID theft ring who offers you money to give them information, which has just been in the news a lot down here where there was hospital employees, or you know a lot of our police and fire had their social security numbers sold by insiders, rogue employees.
Len Sipes: Oh, that’s terrible.
Denise Richardson: Yeah. You cannot stop it, but what you can be is aware and know what to look for. Check your bank statements. Check your credit reports, you know, do what you can. I always say, you know, living here in Florida I can’t stop a hurricane from coming. I certainly can’t control Mother Nature, but what I do is I get batteries, and I make sure come hurricane season I have all the supplies and you know, things that I need to lessen the impact.
[Len Sipes: All right, so the bottom line is check our statements, check your credit card statement, check your bank statement, check all statements and make sure that the information on there is accurate.
Denise Richardson: Correct. And if you see any red flags, you know, then you can know, you know, instinctively in advance. You’re more prepared, and I guess that’s the message. Just don’t put your guard down. I’m not saying you have to live paranoid, but live wise. You know, just pay attention to your bank accounts and your credit reports and do what you can to minimize the impact if it does hit you.
Len Sipes: Will, this harkens back decades ago when I was in the crime prevention business for the Department of Justice’s Clearinghouse in the National Crime Prevention Council. I mean it is—what we said back then is use common sense in terms of where you go, how you dressed, what your environment is. It’s pretty much incumbent upon you to keep yourself from being victimized, so there was some responsibility for you know, not walking down the street as I did when I—I remember working for the National Crime Prevention Council, and I remember getting money from somebody, and I remember walking through Fell’s Point in Baltimore City, which had a crime problem, and I was counting money. And then I stopped dead in the street going I’ve just did exactly what I’ve told thousands of people not to do.
Will Marling: Well, yeah true. You know we also focus on the fact that crime victimization—the blame rests with the perpetrator period—period. I mean no woman gets blamed for how she dressed.
Len Sipes: Right.
Will Marling: No businessman gets blamed for how he’s dressed.
Len Sipes: Agreed.
Will Marling: There’s discretions. Of course, there’s wisdom driving in appropriate places, but that’s part of the challenge with this. In reality, consumers need to be educated on the front end to make a difference here. Let me give you a very simple principle as we move into, you know, ever increasing, ever evolving, technological tools turned to weapons here and that is the concept of if it’s convenient for you, in terms of commerce, it’s probably as convenient for a thief. For example, we’re getting into wireless transmissions, transactions with our phones. Is your phone built for that? Let me give you a simple analogy. We used to have the Hummers that were military grade. And then we came out with this commercial-grade Hummer.
Len Sipes: Mm-hmm.
Will Marling: Let me ask, is your phone a military-grade piece of equipment or commercial-grade piece of equipment?
Len Sipes: You can put—I heard on a technical podcast the other day that you can put key logging software on a cell phone, which means—
Will Marling: Your phone can be compromised like a computer, just as easily, and it with later effect.
Len Sipes: Yes. Your phone is a computer, and it’s fairly easily compromised.
Will Marling: It’s more than a computer because it’s got a GPS in it that your computer doesn’t care to have. It’s got a camera in it, which many computers do have. It, of course, has microphones. It has recording devices. So, anybody who can compromise that phone has actually access to everything that phone can do.
Len Sipes: And it shows your location if you activate the GPS device.
Will Marling: Yeah, well, and they listen to your phone calls. They can read every text.
Len Sipes: So what is the lesson? What is the lesson in all of this? So if they can do that, is it not to use your cell phone for banking?
Will Marling: Well, my recommendation is to think about whether the convenience really is that necessary. If we think about banking, do—when you build a bank—you build a bank, you start with the vault, and then you build the building around it. I’m not gonna convert my house into a bank, but basically that’s what we’re doing with cell phones. So when you think, oh, this is a really cool option, the question is, do you really want to have that option on your phone for a lot of different reasons. First of all, it could be intercepted. The phone could be compromised, lost, and/or stolen, so there are mechanisms to help secure phones if it’s been stolen and this kind of thing, but the question is, do you really need to do all of those things on your phone? Do you need a bank on your phone? I don’t, and I won’t. I refuse to.
Len Sipes: No, no. I—no, no I hear you loud and clear. Or what about your home computer?
Will Marling: Well, you know, again that’s at least internal and while, you know, there are house—there are robberies that involve just people taking the computer cause they know it’s gold—it’s, you know, the value in it, at least you can secure your computer, and people do transactions, but those can be done safely, once again, but your phone is mobile. And it’s connected to you, and it is out there and I just have serious concerns personally about where this can go. Again, a lot of that could be forwarded simply by our appropriate aware use of the tools that we have.
Len Sipes: And also a good long complicated passcode to get into your own computer. Not the simple things that we use on a day-to-day basis.
Will Marling: Well, yeah and the same thing with our phone. Anything that gives you an opportunity for a passcode, the deal is use it ‘cause there’s a reason that passcode was put there, as the option was there. People find it inconvenient to type in their passcodes on their phone, but you know, do it. It’s a nominal inconvenience, one again, for an extra level, an extra layer of security.
Len Sipes: Most people don’t use the passcode for the phone. Most people don’t even know they have a passode for the phone.
Will Marling: Yeah, it’s too bad too because again, you’re just a low-hanging fruit. You know that phrase. And we just tell people constantly well, we know this is out there, and you can’t control what other people do, like Denise said, with our information, but let’s control what we ourselves do with it and let’s raise our fruit. At least raise it up a hair.
Len Sipes: Denise, we only have four minutes left in the program, and every time I do this program I just want to keep going and going and going because we never do cover all the ground that we said that we were going to cover. All right, so give me—so we did say last time that in terms of places to contact, it would be National Organization for Victim Assistance at www.trynova.org, your own website, www.givemebackmycredit.org, the Federal Trade Commission, ftc.gov, for additional information and also, ladies and gentlemen, the FBI puts out a lot of information on fraud, and you should feel free to contact www.fbi.gov and look at, especially, their computer crime related sections. They have a lot of good consumer tips. Anything else in terms of sources of information?
Denise Richardson: Well, definitely. There’s a Federal Trade Commission identity theft hotline, especially for, you know, people who want to just make a call and report any type of scam, and you can call 1-877-438—
Len Sipes: 877-438—
Denise Richardson: 4338.
Len Sipes: 4338.
Denise Richardson: Exactly, and you know I just want to back Will up on what he just said as far as definitely, you know, control what happens in your life by taking care of what you can do. It’s just like I don’t want to scare anybody, I just want to raise awareness and—
Len Sipes: Oh, scare us. We have to be scared. We have to.
Denise Richardson: We can’t stop driving on highways. We’re—an accident is just around the corner for each of us, but it’s not gonna stop us from getting in our vehicles, and that’s what we need to realize. We can enjoy these phones. We can enjoy our computers. We can—not stop us, but just like when you get a new car. What you do? You put your seatbelt on, you know. That’s what you need to do if you look at it that way. Contact security experts to figure out if your computer and your access points are safe—same with cell phones. And spend a little time, I would say, on the web looking at and being up to date on these latest types of scams that we barely touched the surface of today, but at least it helps to have that awareness.
Len Sipes: Well, don’t react to anything. Contact the source independently through a number on the computer or through the Yellow Pages, even your local police department now-a-days, and it sounds like it’s a matter of passcodes and the use of the passcodes and it sounds like it’s a matter of checking up your bank statements and your credit card statements. It sounds like those are the three principal things that came out of this quick conversation today.
Denise Richardson: Those are great starting points, absolutely.
Len Sipes: But for additional information contact www.givemebackmycredit.org, or National Organization for Victim Assistance, or I’m gonna give out that number again for the Federal Trade Commission, 1-877-438-4338, 1-877-438-4338—anything real quick Denise, Will?
Denise Richardson: Talk to your kids. Talk to your kids who are on all these social-networking sites, Facebook, and let them—and talk to your—you know, your family, seniors you know. I say spread awareness. Let them know what type of risks that are out there, so they are less likely to fall for these telephone scams or door-to-door.
Len Sipes: Okay, got it. Denise you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We’ve dealt with the issue of identity theft and scams today. Will Marling, Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trynova.org, Denise Richardson, consumer advocate and ID theft education specialist, www.givemebackmycredit.org. Ladies and gentlemen, we appreciate all the interaction that you provide us in terms of e-mails and phone calls, and guidance in terms of what you like and what you don’t like and, especially, in terms of new programs, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.