An average of 80 million documents with sensitive information are compromised each year in the U.S. This leaves U.S. citizens including those in the Wasatch Back at risk for identity theft.
As we’ve reported four men were arrested and charged with 17 felonies in Summit County two weeks ago. The majority of the charges were related to identity theft by the individuals. KPCW spoke with a National Fraud Institute certified identity theft risk management specialist, Deanne Foster, about identity theft.
“Thieves want our numbers. A lot of people think identity theft is about credit and credit cards and getting loans and that sort of thing and it is that, but it’s not the credit they want, it’s your numbers. We just heard about the recent identity theft issue with the four illegals there in Summit County. They used the social security numbers and what did they do with those numbers? They got jobs for one thing, is what they did. That’s one thing that they can do now if a thief is using your information and your social to get a job and they’re not paying taxes on that then that’s a negative impact on the victim. So, when we understand it’s about the numbers, our drivers license number our health insurance number our date of birth our address. These are all numbers that identify us. If thieves can get these numbers they can do anything with those numbers that we do but we become responsible. So, when we understand that then we can say ok so how do I protect my numbers?”
Foster says that you can’t eliminate the threat of identity theft, but you can significantly reduce the risk.
“Probably the best tip I can give is to treat your numbers like they are loose cash. Treat each of your numbers and your identifying numbers, the identifying numbers of your children, any information, other people that you have responsibility for protecting their numbers. Treat those numbers like its loose cash. If it was $1,000 or $10,000 would you just leave it sitting out? Would you just leave it sitting in your car? Would you just leave it sitting on your desk? If you’ll treat that information like its loose cash I think that’s a really good visual for people.”
Foster also suggest shredding your documents into what she describes as confetti, so thieves can’t tape the strips together, she also suggests you be careful on social media not to inadvertently give out important information. Foster also says that your identity can be stolen even after you’ve passed away.
“Believe me there are a lot of people who have passed on who are victims of identity theft. Nobody’s going to complain about it for a long time because its not going to be discovered for a long time. Just watch out for numbers that you’re sharing that inadvertently you are sharing. If you don’t care, you don’t care. Just understand that’s what thieves are looking for.”
Children are also favorite targets of those who steal identities.
“Thieves love children’s numbers. A minor is not going to be using their numbers for a lot of years. They’re not going to be seeking credit, they’re not going to be getting a drivers license they’re not going to be getting a job. So, someone can use their numbers for a lot of years and it remains undetected until they start doing those things and they realize their life is trashed and they’re just getting started. So, it’s really important to protect children’s information.”
Foster also says that your employers and companies that store your information have a responsibility to you.
“There are companies that have responsibility to take care of our information and that’s where we talk about data breaches. Just double check with them. What are you doing to protect this information? Who else has access to this information? Why do you need this information? Those are good questions to ask.”
Foster says you can find out that your identity has been stolen because something negative happens or you can find out through a monitoring service.
“I think a lot of people hear about identity theft unless you yourself have experienced it or you know someone who has it may not be super on your radar. Hearing about it in the news you might not understand the extent of it. Within the last 13 years, since they’ve started recording reported data breaches, we’ve had well over a billion records that have been compromised. Divide that out between those 13 years and you’re looking at about 80 million per year. That’s a big problem. Our information is a hot commodity, the more information they have on you the more money they can charge for it. If we understand that, then we can do a better job in protecting ourselves, our children, our families, our loved ones. You can go to identitytheft.gov. The federal government has all kinds of tips on steps you can take to clean up problems or you can have a service in place. When you’re looking at services consider how extensive you want it to be.”