ID Theft Seminars: Panel Experts Engage and Educate our Community

April 16, 2009 at 11:11 am

Following up on last spring’s well-attended seminar, Rider University’s Center for Business Forensics this time hosted two free interactive presentations this month focusing on the major issues surrounding identity theft. The two offerings, one for the general public and one specifically for the law enforcement community, provided insight into the widespread, varying, and serious nature of identity theft. Dr. Drew Procaccino, a professor of computer information systems at Rider, organized and led the panel of experts from law enforcement, banking, legal, library, IT, and health care organizations who participated earlier this month and/or in this morning’s seminar. I was happy to help provide materials, participate as a panelist, and blog about these seminars again.

According to Terri Cullen, author of The Wall Street Journal Complete Identity Theft Guidebook: How to Protect Yourself from the Most Pervasive Crime in America, “…Identity theft covers several different specific crimes, and collectively,…is one of the easiest crimes to commit, one of the hardest to prosecute, and one that is drawing increasing attention from the media.” Last year, we determined from the Q&A sessions that there was a lot of misinformation out there on the different types of identity theft, the scope of people who commit this type of theft, the trends, and what we can do to better detect and prevent this theft. Ten frequently repeated “best practices” from the experts for detection and protection were given:

  1. Shred with a crosscut shredder pieces of mail that contain any personal information before throwing them in the trash at home or at work.
  2. Place outgoing mail and retrieve incoming mail via a locking mailbox or official Postal Service box.
  3. Use a virtual credit card number (available through most banks) for online purchases, rather than your “real” credit card—connected to your card, the virtual number can be set up to only be used once, for that one online purchase (or for longer, but only if you wish).
  4. Keep an eye on your physical card when you are paying for something—don’t allow it to disappear out of your sight (skimming of your credit card number could occur).
  5. Inventory/photocopy what is in your wallet/purse and place that photocopy (back and front of cards) in a locked cabinet—if your wallet/purse is stolen, you have all the info.
  6. Never respond to an unsolicited email from your bank, medical organization, etc., and don’t unsubscribe—don’t even click on the link, just delete it.
  7. Cover the keypad from prying eyes/cameras with one hand while entering your PIN at an ATM.
  8. Review your credit reports (you can get a free one each year from each of the three credit reporting agencies, and if you stagger requests, you can get one every four months).
  9. Clear private data from your browser (i.e., Firefox, IE, or Safari)–delete temporary files, browsing history, cookies, cache, saved form information, and saved passwords, especially when using a public computer or kiosk, and then close your browser.
  10. Use different passwords for different sites—and make your passwords passphrases.

Below, I have listed and described my four favorite ID theft protection and privacy information assistance sites found in Cullen’s book and on other expert sites. I mentioned these at the seminars, and I regularly use and direct people to them—they are excellent, not only for preventive measures, but also for the detailed steps to take if you find that you are a victim:

  1. Consumers Union: Nonprofit Publisher of Consumer Reports – “Consumers Union (CU) is an expert, independent, nonprofit organization, whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers. CU publishes Consumer Reports and in addition to two newsletters, Consumer Reports on Health and Consumer Reports Money Adviser.” For those concerned about ID theft, see their project, which strives to inform us all about personal financial information use and tips for regaining control over our sensitive financial information.
  2. Fighting Back Against Identity Theft – This Federal Trade Commission website is a “one-stop national resource to learn about the crime of identity theft. It provides detailed information to help you deter, detect, and defend against identity theft.” Sections for consumers, businesses, law enforcement personnel, and members of the media are provided, as are state and national data reports. Website info is also available in Spanish.
  3. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: Nonprofit, Consumer Information and Advocacy Organization – Among its goals are to “raise consumers’ awareness of how technology affects personal privacy, empower consumers to take action to control their own personal information by providing practical tips on privacy protection, and respond to specific privacy-related complaints from consumers, intercede on their behalf, and, when appropriate, refer them to the proper organizations for further assistance.” I found their Identity Theft, Financial Privacy, and Internet Privacy links, fact sheets, and stories to be very valuable.
  4. Identity Theft Resource Center: Working to Resolve Identity Theft – “Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) is a nonprofit, nationally respected organization dedicated exclusively to the understanding and prevention of identity theft. The ITRC provides victim and consumer support as well as public education. The ITRC also advises governmental agencies, legislators, law enforcement, and businesses about the evolving and growing problem of identity theft.” This site provides info on data breaches, victim & consumer resources, scam alerts, and more–it even provides pages in Spanish and Chinese. I still introduce people to ITRC’s ID theft test and PC info safety quiz to possibly help get people ‘in the mood’ to begin protecting themselves and their family from this threat.

My continually updated website, Personal Profiles and Other Publicly Available Information: An Internet Hotlist on Detecting and Protecting Your Digital Footprint, contains the above sites, as well as notable personal information search engines (which I demonstrated at the seminar), along with other related information for teachers, librarians, and teens/tweens.

As a librarian and professor, I feel compelled to share this type of information with my patrons and students, especially since I personally have been a victim of ID theft—it can be a very emotional, time-consuming, and financially-unrewarding process to clear up.

Prevent it from ever happening to you, and help others do the same, please.

-Robert Lackie

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