Brian Dowd of PAN’s Business Development office discussed identity theft at the monthly meeting of the York County Paralegal Association held at the York County Bar Association office.
Dowd told the audience that everyone is at risk and that identity theft is an international crime.
“Identity theft is a crime where one person or persons steals the identifying information of another person,” Dowd said. “And it’s a very serious and growing crime that is affecting 10 million people a year.” While Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports say 10 million people are affected, the commission also estimates that as many as 50 million cases of identity theft go unreported in a given year.
Victims of identity theft spend an average of $800 and also spend 175 hours worth of time to get the problem fixed, according to the FTC.
While the crime is certainly costly to the victim, the thief or thieves don’t pay the same prices as some of their criminal peers.
“A person who steals someone’s identity, if caught, will spend two-thirds less time in prison than someone who robs bank,” Dowd said. “The lesser the penalty a criminal pays for getting caught, the better the crime looks.”
Dowd explained that there are a variety of ways to steal someone’s identity-thieves actually steal mail, employee records, wallets, handbags or purses and other identifying items. However, in the information age there are a variety of other ways that criminals are now scamming someone else’s identity.
The new ways include:
Phishing-This is where a criminal asks a victim for information via E-mail. In this scam, the sender asks the recipient for information regarding a bank account, credit card or something else regarding finance.
Pretexting-Similar to phishing except the criminal seeks information from the victim over the telephone.
“Your bank will never ask you for important information like your Social Security number or your account number over the telephone or on the Internet,” Dowd said. “If you’re being asked for this kind of information on the Internet or over the telephone, you can be sure it is a scam.”
Pharming-A thief reroutes a Web server’s traffic in this scam.
Shimming-ever wonder what happens to your credit card when the waiter or waitress takes it away at a restaurant? This involves stealing credit card information simply by writing it down or by using a device that can copy and store the information on the card.
Ghosting-When a criminal steals the identity of a dead person, it’s known as “ghosting.”
In addition, there are ID theft victims who have been scammed for medical services like cosmetic surgery.
The crime takes a huge toll on the victim.
“While law enforcement is hiring more people to fight ID theft, there is very little help for the victim,” Dowd said. “Someone else’s personal information is a gold mine for a criminal.”
Dowd closed the program by discussing the FTC’s battle plan for fighting ID theft-“deter, detect, defend.”
“You should shred all of the personal information you are throwing away,” he said. “This includes things like credit card and bank applications and you should use a cross-cut or a diamond shredder. Use strong passwords on your computer. Use checks only when necessary, and never, ever, print your Social Security number or telephone number on a check. There is no reason for anyone to ask you for this information.
“In fact, you shouldn’t even carry your Social Security card. You should have it locked away somewhere. Treat your personal information as cash and use the FTC plans and standards as a guideline.”
For more information on scheduling a private seminar for your group or company, please call PAN’s business development office at (412) 281-0678 ext. 145.