Seminar urges caution to avoid identity theft
December 22, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- Some Fort Meade residents and employees may be crime victims and not know it.
More than 60 identity theft reports have been filed with the Fort Meade Police Department since April, said Russell Wilson, Fort Meade's chief criminal investigator.
It is one of the reasons why the Directorate of Emergency Services organized a seminar about how to prevent and recover from identity theft on Dec. 14 at the Post Theater. The average identity theft report on Fort Meade is between $600 and $1,800, said Wilson.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. It believes more people are victims but do not know it until they review their credit report or credit card statement, or receive a collection notice.
"Identity theft is basically using personal identification information that is unique to a person for illegal means," said Keith Gethers, a certified identity theft risk-management specialist, who was one of two presenters at the seminar. "We typically associate that with name, Social Security number, address and credit card number."
While anyone can potentially have his identity stolen, thieves target certain types of people such as military personal, said Gethers. "[Identity thieves] pay attention to levels of deployment," he said.
Social media users, including service members and their families, who post too detailed information are putting themselves at risk of identity theft, said Gethers.
"[Thieves] work [social media] in terms of intelligence information," he said. "Some people put on when they're going on vacation and everything. So deployments [are] just a small part of that. We have to be vigilant about what information is out there and what we share."
Hacking and social media impersonation also are methods identity thieves use, said Gethers.
"They'll go [on] Facebook or something like that and pretend to be you," he said, "and it's really attached to things that we wouldn't think of as identity theft, but the end result might result in something like bullying ... by putting something outlandish on [the Internet] that might make [the victim] the target of other people."
There is no federal law against Internet impersonation, said Bridgette Harwood, a victims' rights attorney, who also spoke at the seminar. However, California and New York do have state laws that criminalize Internet impersonation.
Hardwood believes there is no federal law and few state laws "because it is very difficult to prosecute. ...," she said. "The process of getting [identity thieves across jurisdictions] is a lot more difficult."
Gethers recommends service members use active-duty fraud alerts during a deployment. The alert requires businesses to contact the service member before issuing credit. Service members can use a personal representative to start or stop the alert, which remains on the credit report for one year unless it is removed sooner.
Service members should contact one of the three consumer reporting agencies: Equifax at 1-800-525-6285 or equifax.com; Experian at 1-888-397-3742 or experian.com; or TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289 or transunion.com.
Service members, their families and anyone with federal affiliation to the installation must go to the Directorate of Emergency Services to report identity theft, said Wilson.
Gethers encourages service members to educate their family about identity theft, reduce the amount of mail such as pre-approved credit card offers and limit the number of open accounts.
"It's a lot more than [financial identity theft]," Gethers said.
A victim's identity also can be used to generate a criminal record, harass or stalk someone on the Internet, rent an apartment, establish a utility account or create an inaccurate medical record.
Gethers told the audience that medical identity theft is a "sleeping giant" and can result in incorrect diagnoses that could be fatal.
Identity thieves use several methods to obtain personal information - Dumpster diving, skimming, phishing, change of address, old-fashioned theft and pretexting, according to the FTC.
* Dumpster diving is what it sounds like. Identity thieves search through trash for bills or other personal information.
* Skimming steals credit or debit card information using a device when the card is processed during what appears to be a normal transaction. This method has spiked in the area, said Gethers.
* Phishing attempts pretend to be a financial institution to trick potential victims into releasing their personal information.
* A change of address reroutes bills to another location to collect personal information.
* Old-fashioned stealing involves the theft of such items as purses, wallets, new checks or tax information.
* Thieves who use pretexting attempt to collect information by impersonating someone such as a researcher and then contacts the victim's financial institution and requests details about the account.
Information about other ways to prevent identity theft and recover from it are available on the FTC's website ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft.