Identity Theft 2-10 Million Identity Thefts a Year-NOVA-DC Public Safety-177,000 Requests a Month

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This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/08/identity-theft-2-10-million-identity-thefts-a-year-nova-dc-public-safety-177000-requests-a-month/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio Begins –

Leonard Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s program will deal with identity theft. It is something that seems to be sweeping the country. Every time you turn around, there are additional articles that say that identity theft is growing throughout the country. Back at our microphones, Will Marling, Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. Their website address is www.trynova.org, and also, on our microphones today is Robert Wayne Ivey. Robert is resident agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He works out of the Brevard Country Field Office. He is an expert in the investigation of ID theft crimes. Wayne has also been the victim of ID theft and hence has a unique perspective on this kind of victimization. So, we should have a good half hour talking about identification theft.

Ladies and gentlemen, the usual commercial, we want to thank all of you for all of your cards, letters, phone calls and how you get my number, I don’t know, but I don’t give it out, but you seem to be doing an effective enough job getting in touch with me via email. We are now up to 162,000 requests for July of 2009 and July is not over. It’s a record month for us, and we really appreciate the fact that you’re listening and the fact that you’re watching and the fact that you’re reading the blog or the articles on our site. If you need to get in touch with me, it’s leonard.sipes@csosa.gov, or simply comment in the comment box on the D.C. Public Safety Media site. To Will Marling and to Wayne, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Will Marling: Thank you Leonard. Good to be with you.

Wayne Ivey: Thank you Leonard, it’s nice to be with you today.

Leonard Sipes: Well, gentleman, every time I turn around, I am looking at an article that tells me that identity theft is increasing by leaps and bounds. It is the fastest growing crime in America. But I note that there is no central source for identity theft. If you take a look at the uniformed crime reports, the two big national sources of crime information, The Uniform Crime reports of the FBI, and if you take a look at the National Crime Survey, identity theft is not a category that we measure. So, we’ll start off with Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. Will, how do we know that this is growing?

Will Marling: The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) that has been tasked with some of the issues related to tracking this particular crime; and the evidence so far indicates that we’re looking at least 10 million victims a year. We’ve got an idea that that’s probably fairly low because of the nature of the ability to report, awareness issues, people even understanding certain aspects of the crime. So I’m pretty convinced that right there, we’ve got solid ground to recognize that this is a huge problem and it is growing.

Leonard Sipes: 10 million victims a year.

Will Marling: That’s right.

Leonard Sipes: Who puts out that figure?

Will Marling: The Federal Trade Commission is tasked with this particular issue. There was a Presidential Commission that was established not too many years ago and so the Federal Trade Commission tracks this and you report. If you’re a victim of identity theft, you’re asked to report that to the Federal Trade Commission. They don’t have an enforcement issue, as such, but they do have a statistical reporting and tracking. The Federal Trade Commission offers information about identity theft and protection and, of course, dealing with the victimization.

Leonard Sipes: Will Marling, again, being the Executive Director with the National Organization for Victim Assistance, ladies and gentleman, if you’re not aware of NOVA, they’ve been around for about 30 years or so, been advocating for victims’ rights that entire time and, Will, ordinarily, the issue is burglary, robbery, rape, a lot of violent crimes. NOVA has been traditionally active, and we did a radio show, ladies and gentlemen, with Will Marling about two months ago. And we’re doing a series of six radio programs with the National Organization for Victim Assistance. How did NOVA get involved in identity theft?

Will Marling: Well, we were getting some calls on our toll free line (1-800-TRY-NOVA). It’s a victim assistance line and, of course, we do get a lot of violent crime victims that need assistance and support and referrals; but we were getting these identity theft victims and so we started asking some questions about what was going on there, what’s available to them, realized there wasn’t very much. And so we ended up starting to build our own database in terms of our own thinking about this, understanding, getting some training, and we ended up partnering with a company called Life Lock, to understand this issue from both the protection side and also the victim assistance side. And that really propelled us in a very short order and just in even in the past year or so or less, really, to looking at confronting this issue and putting resources toward helping people victimized by identity theft.

Leonard Sipes: Robert Wayne Ivey, again, is resident agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement working at Brevard County. You were the victim of an ID theft, correct Wayne?

Wayne Ivey: That’s exactly right, Leonard. I ran the state-wide Identity Theft Task Force for our agency for a number of years and actually ended up becoming a victim, myself, which when I’m speaking to different groups, civic groups and everything, I always point out to them, I theoretically know what steps to put in place to protect against becoming a victim, and it still happened to me. So, it just goes to demonstrate that anyone can become a victim of this crime that no one is completely insulated from it.

Leonard Sipes: Can you give me a little detail about what happened without getting too personal?

Wayne Ivey: I can give you all the exact detail on it. I stopped to buy a golf bag. I’m a horrible golfer, I thought if I had nicer looking golf bag, it might help my golf game, which it didn’t. I just want to point that out but,

Leonard Sipes: I use that same philosophy, by the way, with tennis.

Wayne Ivey: I used my ATM MasterCard to make the purchase on a Friday and on Monday my bank account was wiped out. It was gone and they had taken all the money out. When I ended up solving it, it was the 19-year-old kid that waited on me at the gold shop and he’d done about $25,000 in credit card fraud with other people’s information and using their identities and victimizing them.

Leonard Sipes: How do you prevent that sort of thing from happening, Wayne? I mean, we all turn our credit card information directly over the telephone to people almost everyday. How do you prevent that sort of thing from happening?

Wayne Ivey: Well there’s some things, as I said, there is no way to absolutely guarantee you’re not going to become the victim of this type of crime. There are certain measures that you can take that are proactive. For example, fraud alerts and doing different things; shredding your documents, not putting your mail in the outgoing mail carrier, or the mailbox and that list goes on and on. So there are certain things you can do that are proactive. But some things you have to be reactive in. What’s real important in identity theft investigations is,I think the last time I looked; the national average was 12.7 months, the average for someone to realize they’ve been the victim of identity theft. That’s an enormous amount of time to be victimized and not know it.

Leonard Sipes: Why so long, Wayne?

Wayne Ivey: A lot of it is, we’re not reactive. We’re not doing the things that we can do. We’re not looking at our credit reports. We’re not monitoring our online transactions. We’re not taking advantage of real time credit histories, and staying up on top of our checking accounts and those things. So, it has a tendency to lengthen the time that we’re unrecognized as victims. And if we become reactive and recognize its happened right away, it gives law enforcement a better chance to make an arrest or actually identify the perpetrator. And it also limits the extent of damage that can be done to you as a victim.

Leonard Sipes: Wayne, I’m going to be asking you this at the end of the show but I want to get in to some of it right now. You’ve just ran through a lot of very important things. You’re supposed to take a good look at your accounts. When your credit accounts come in, you’re supposed to immediately recognize that somebody buying those new golf clubs, by the way, in Nebraska can’t possibly be you.

Wayne Ivey: Exactly. So many people don’t recognize that. Maybe that’s because the volume of expenditures on their credit card invoice is typical. They do a lot of expenditures so they don’t take the time to look at it and see that something’s happened. Other examples may be it’s a dormant credit card that they never look at the bill on because they don’t ever use it, and somebody else is actually using it and taking advantage of that. So there’s many different purposes why someone may not recognize it has happened. Other people, and we’ve become a technology society, if you will, and other people have gone away from getting an actual hard copy or a paper copy of their bill delivered to them and they’ve gone to getting it online. What they see is they see their bill, they don’t review their statements and everything else, and so they’re just paying that bill. Again, there’s a number of reasons. When we talk about identity theft and credit card fraud all put together, it’s amazing the advances that have happened. The technology and the availability of our information are just unintentionally driving this crime to epidemic proportions.

Leonard Sipes: You’ve mentioned two other things; you mentioned shredding your documents before throwing them out in the trash and you’ve mentioned, in terms of what? Getting an application for a credit card and you just toss it in the trash?

Wayne Ivey: We see people that actually have shredders in their house. As one person said, they have a shredder that would shred the carpet in the house but they never use it to shred documents. Sometimes we think we’re outsmarting the thief by ripping it up in little pieces. They’ll get it out of your garbage. They’ll do dumpster diving and piece it back together like a puzzle. Credit applications, we get them, we throw them in the garbage. They’re taking advantage of it. Sometimes, we don’t even get them. They’re mailed to us and the thieves are stealing it out of our mailbox before we ever get our hands on it.

Leonard Sipes: At the end of the program, think about this, I’m going to be asking you for the top five things that people can do. One of the things that people ask me in terms of the show is at the beginning of the show, is summarize what we’re going to cover for the entire show. There is no pre-planning for these radio shows that we do or the television shows that we do, by the way. We just crank up the recorder and crank up the television cameras and let it fly and so there is no way that I can summarize it at the beginning. A lot of people are asking me to do that but we will summarize what the principal issues are at the end.

Where do we go? What does the average person get to do? What are the best steps the person can take to prevent identity theft? It just strikes me that with all of the credit card information that I give out to strangers on 1-800 lines, I think, when I’m dealing with Amazon and I’m dealing with an affiliate, I’m assuming that Amazon has done something to make sure that the folks and their affiliates take care of my personal information.

Wayne Ivey: One thing that everyone has to keep in mind, because we are constantly asked, is it okay to do transactions online? Is it okay to do things over the computer? The answer to that is, regardless of if you walk into a building to pay your bill, or into a building to do a transaction, regardless of what you’re doing, somewhere a human being is processing your information and, if that human being is a responsible individual, an integral individual that is going to protect your information, then it doesn’t matter if its online or not. Conversely, if they’re a person that’s going to be wiling to turn around and use your information, or sell it to someone that’s going to use it illegitimately, then you’re in trouble. Again, it’s the same, whether they get your information because they’re receiving it on the other end of a computer transaction or if they get it because you’ve walked in the door and handed it to them. You’re still equally as vulnerable.

Leonard Sipes: What do we do? What do we as citizens do? Because all the things that you just described in terms of not taking a good look at your statements, and I do rip up the credit card applications before putting them on the trashcan. If they were so desperate to go in my trashcan and piece it back together then God bless them, because I do a good job of ripping those things up. But really, life is busy and you have kids and you have a wife and you have a job and have responsibilities and its run, run, run. I can see, you’re telling me that 12 months, the average time out there is 12 months between the identity theft and by the time the person notices it. I can understand why that happens and how it happens and why it happens.

Wayne Ivey: I think one thing that is just amazing is, we hear and it’s factually based, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country. What we need everyone to do; consumers, and everyone to do is to realize that identity theft is not a new crime. I know Will can touch on this as well as I can because we talked about it before; but when you look at identity theft, you can trace identity theft activity back to the Book of Genesis with the story of Esau and Jacob where one brother uses the other brother’s name to get the first born rights. You can find it in the play Othello where Iago talks about, “He who filches my good name, robs me of my riches and indeed makes me poor.” It’s been around forever. What is happening is, it has evolved and technology and the availability of our information has helped it to evolve. Will, will tell you the same thing. We see victims from every walk of life, every economic, social level that become victims of identity theft. It’s really a difficult crime to investigate because generally it’s multi-jurisdictional and it’s a difficult crime to prevent because our information is exposed at so many different levels.

Leonard Sipes: I was responding on my internet account where, I won’t give the name of the organization, and I belong to this particular entity and the entity was telling me they needed updated information. And it was so real. They were asking me for my social security number, my credit card number because they already had my credit card number. This is an organization I already gave this information to but when it got down to the social security number, I said, “Why are they asking me for my social security number?” And then it struck me, this is a fraud. Now here I am 40 years in the criminal justice system, four college degrees, you would think that I would be smart enough to recognize that, and I was just one little millisecond from pressing the button and hitting send. So it fools us all and from what I understand, from just reading stuff about identity thefts that ,in many cases, these are so sophisticated that the average person doesn’t recognize that it’s a fraud regardless as to how savvy they are. Correct?

Wayne Ivey: Absolutely, and Will, I don’t know if you want to respond to that, but absolutely, the levels of sophistication have just climbed and climbed. We’ve gone from a crime that was typically committed in person to a crime that is now committed at global levels. Someone in another country is targeting you and with the same type of scams that you’re just talking about, where something pops up on your computer and it appears legitimate. It will have the company logo, an icon of whatever company they’re impersonating and, when it pops up on that screen, your first inclination is to fill it out because it may say that your credit card is going to be shut down. It may say that your bank account is at risk and you’re first thought is to comply with it so that you can get deeper into it and figure exactly what’s going on.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, stay with me on this particular issue. I have to reintroduce both of you because we’re halfway through the program. Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trynova.org, 1-800-TRY-NOVA. We’re talking about 10 million victims of identity theft a year, the estimate is. We’re also talking to Robert Wayne Ivey, resident agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

So the bottom line to me is this is that if this is happening and it strikes me also that the counterfeiters have completely given up on counterfeiting and now going into identity theft, because some of these things that pop up in your internet screen are so vivid that this is not something that law enforcement is going to be able to solve because a lot of these solicitations, as you’ve just said, Wayne, are coming from overseas. And in fact, one of the breakaway Soviet Republics, it originates there, it goes through a computer in Greece, it goes through a computer in the United States and it comes to you. So this strikes me as not a law enforcement initiative, this strikes me as an education initiative that, unless we as citizens, take the proper precautions, there is very little that law enforcement can do to intervene. Am I right or wrong?

Will Marling: There is a number of prongs. This is huge monster, naturally, and with many monsters, you need more than one weapon. And so we looked at it from a law enforcement standpoint and certainly, there are folks doing this locally. Now globally, yeah, the challenge is trying to tract somebody down in another country is difficult, but from the standpoint of what we do here, even, there are some legislative commitments that I think need to be made regarding data breach, a national data breach standard that is being worked on, I know. As well as the awareness piece. And this is why, Leonard, it’s so good to discuss this issue because, as Wayne describes, it can happen to anybody. I want to mention two things, one is that it could truly happen to anybody because anybody’s information makes it possible to be abused, to be misused. The fact is you might say, “Well I have bad credit. Nobody cares about mine.” They don’t care about your credit, they care about the fact that you have a social security number and that social security number can be exploited in many ways.

Wayne Ivey: That’s exactly right.

Will Marling: That’s just to recognize anybody is possible. My kids, I have my kids on a service. I pay a small amount each month for a monitoring service for my children because even as young as they are, they don’t have a work record, but if somebody gets a hold of their social security number, they could actually use it. If I understand correctly from law enforcement, the average social security number that’s abused is abused about 30 times. And many times, it’s people who don’t have social security numbers who are using it for illegal work purposes and this kind of thing. The other piece I want to mention from a victim assistance standpoint is simply that the emotional impact of this is significant. For your law enforcement listeners, all I can say is, try to be sympathetic. You look at it as a property crime, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an identity crime. It’s a slam against who you are. Your personal integrity is in view, it’s challenged. And emotionally, you feel like somebody has gotten into your very,they’ve gotten into your drawers and they’re pulling out your intimate garments. I mean that’s the reality. That’s how people emotionally feel about it.

So, we’re trying to help people recognize, especially those who work with these kinds of victims, that the emotional impact many times looks and feels, in many ways, like violent crime victimization. The outcomes are different in some ways but emotionally, impact is very deep.

Leonard Sipes: The vast majority of property crimes are not reported to law enforcement, we know that from the National Crime Survey. My guess is that the vast majority of these crimes are not reported to law enforcement. If I’m called in to an identity theft crime, and I’m pretty smart guy, and I’m pretty technologically savvy in terms of the average person, I wouldn’t know the first thing to do about investigating this sort of a crime. Wayne?

Wayne Ivey: Before I respond to that one, I just want to follow up on something Will said. From the law enforcement perspective, we have really started to trend that way, but we’ve got to do a better job at helping our victims of this because as Will said, their lives are turned upside down. It’s no longer that this crime just attacks your credit, as it certainly does, but this crime is a attacking your credit, your good name, your abilities to get top secret security clearances, your abilities to get mortgages on a home, on and on. Even to get employment, which we all know is tough in today’s time, you finally get in for that job and then you find out that you’re not getting the job because you’ve got an arrest record or you’ve got a bad credit history, any number of things that can knock you out, even down to a bad driving history that will disqualify people. It is attacking us at all different realms.

And law enforcement, historically, has given victims the runaround. Well it didn’t happen in my area, even though you live in my area, you have to call where it happened at and so forth. I’ll tell you that’s really frustrating for the victim. I hear it every day from them when they’re calling and saying, “I’m getting the runaround. I’m frustrated.” And I’ve actually had one victim that was unfortunately, in her life, she was the victim of a violent crime, and then was later the victim of identity theft. She actually has shared with me that, given the two, the violent crime happened, occurred and was over with and she was able to come to grips with it. The identity theft keeps haunting her over and over again.

Leonard Sipes: And just goes on and on and on and on. And I know from my days as a law enforcement officer, as to how violated the people feel that somebody just was in their garage stealing items out of their garage. It’s a great sense of fear and a great sense of apprehension. I would imagine that it has to be ten times that in terms of somebody coming in and stealing your identity.

Will Marling: There’s no face to that person either. At least, you figure somebody had to breach your own home barrier someway, they broke the lock. But here, you’ve got somebody out there who is after you and you don’t have a clue, probably, who they are and how they got to you.

Leonard Sipes: Or what continent that they’re on.

Will Marling: Yeah, exactly.

Leonard Sipes: This may end up being two shows, gentleman, because I think we’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg with this. Where do people go for information? Will, on your website, do you have information on identity theft?

Will Marling: Ironically, because we’re so new into this, we want build a good resource there. So we actually don’t have a lot.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so you’re in the process of building it. Where do people go?

Will Marling: The one thing I do want to tell you, at the same time, we were asking people, specifically victims to call us because we are able to offer free resources and free professional remediation resources to help them deal with it.

Leonard Sipes: 1-800-TRY-NOVA.

Will Marling: That’s right. So we actually have things we can do for them and with them and not just referral. We have a process for assigning them a code so that they get into free services regarding identity theft remediation. So that’s the main thing and that’s the starting point, I’ll stop there for now.

Leonard Sipes: At 24 minutes and 31 seconds now, I’ve just decided we need to make this two shows. So we need to bring Wayne back on our air. We don’t have enough time to really give this its full due because the more I’m hearing about this, I guess the more frightened I’m becoming in terms of where do people go to get information on identity theft and what should people do? Wayne, is it a matter of simply not responding to anything on the internet, that no bank, no financial institution is going to send you something via the internet that asks you for personal information?

Wayne Ivey: It’s exactly right because here’s the reality of it, whether it’s your bank or your credit card company, which is generally the two types of phishing schemes we see. And of course that phishing with a “˜P’ – P-H-I-S-H-I-N-G, not like fishing in the lake, but the reality of it is the two concepts are very similar because what happens is the criminals send out on your computer the phishing blast. And they know that there is plenty of fish in that lake that they’re phishing in. And some of them are going to bite. Just like on a regular fishing expedition that’s what we do. We throw our hook in the water and we hope that we get a bite from the many fish that are in the water. The reality of it is, when you get that popup on your computer and it says, “Please enter your account number and your security code so that we can discuss with you a possible compromise,” or whatever the particular scheme is. Ask yourself this, “Why would that bank or credit card company have to ask you for information that you know they already have?” They already have your credit account number or your bank number and they certainly already have your security code. Why would they need to ask you for that?

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so better yet, do not respond to anything on the internet, period, that ask you for any personal information, stop.

Wayne Ivey: Exactly, and if you think that there is something to the thing that has popped up, contact your bank or your credit card company, whichever the scheme is going, at a number you know to be from them, not the number that’s provided in that popup or on that computer message, at a number you know you’ve contacted them at before. And I can guarantee that you’re going to find out that you’re about to fall victim to a scam.

Leonard Sipes: That’s a beautiful point because they do, in some cases, will provide an 800 number and a human being will pick up that phone.

Wayne Ivey: That’s right.

Leonard Sipes: And that guy that picks up that phone, that woman, could be part of the fraud. So you better contact your bank directly.

Wayne Ivey: Contact your bank or your credit card company at numbers that you already know, or through avenues that you’ve already known, or go in there in person if that permits. The same thing applies with the phishing scams that come on the telephone. You’ll answer your phone and you get a recording, perhaps, or sometimes it’s a human that says, “Your card has possibly been compromised. Please enter your credit card number so that we can discuss with you what’s occurred.” Why would they need you to do that? They’re the one that motivated the call to you. Why don’t they discuss with you and ask you for some security questions? The answer is, they don’t have the answers to those questions and they’re asking you to give it to them.

Leonard Sipes: Do people do this through the mail?

Wayne Ivey: We see it through the mail. Some of the newer ones are even on Craigslist. We’re seeing things that have been compromised on Craigslist. Maybe its an apartments that’s for rent and somebody has copied that and pasted into their own Craigslist article and now they’re offering this apartment for rent and when you send them the retainer fee or the down payment on it, they cash it, they tell you that you can move in and you show up and so do 20 other people that are moving in to the same place.

Leonard Sipes: I saw that on the FBI scam alert just two days ago. That is amazing to me. Wayne, I hope to get you back. I really do, because we just have about a minute and a half left of the program and I’ve got to do the usual commercials. So I’d love to have you back. A half an hour simply just does not do this issue justice. So let’s do this soon. Will, let’s not do the usual rotation of two months apiece for your shows. Let’s do this as soon as we possibly can as a follow up. I think this is something that is extraordinarily important to bring to the public’s attention and to our friends in law enforcement.

Ladies and gentlemen this is D.C. Pubic Safety our guest today have been Will Marling, the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, www.trynova.org, 1-800-TRY-NOVA. 10 million victims a year of identity theft. Also with us is Robert Wayne Ivey, he’s the resident agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Again, ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety, we are just going like gangbusters 162,000 requests for the month of July 2009 and July is not even over. We have a record month. We appreciate all the contacts, all of the information you’re giving us. You can reach me directly at lenoard.sopes@csosa.gov, or to follow me on Twitter which is Twitter/LenSipes and to other friends, and I really appreciate it, Will, its funny, if you do a program on the victims’ issues so many people do end up listening to it, and we’ve gotten a call from a variety of people, emails, and letters that they also want to do a show on victimization.

We’re going to finish out our series with the National Organization for Victim Assistance. Our listeners tell us that they want a variety of programs. So we try not to do too much of one particular topic. We’ll finish out our series with the National Organization for Victim Assistance and then we will invite you to be on the radio show. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio Ends –

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