• Leader & Times
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final part in the story recapping the discussions that happened during a community meeting hosted by the Liberal Police Department Thursday evening and will cover discussion about identity theft as well as how law enforcement proceeds in such a case.
Identity theft is something no one should have to deal with and Thursday evening, local officials had advice to offer on how to protect one’s identity, beginning with Community Bank employees Becky Klassen and Tina Garinger.
“Identity theft is a federal crime and it occurs when someone else uses your personal information without your knowledge or permission for financial or other gain,” Klassen began. “Last year alone there were 16.7 million people who were victims of identity theft amounting to $16.8 billion lost.”
Klassen then talked about those who are typically prime targets for identity thieves.
“One of your prime targets is young children and that’s because they don’t go out for about 12 or 15 years to try and get any type of credit,” Klassen said. “So if someone gets ahold of their social security card or their name, they can cause all types of trouble but no one will know until that child reaches their teenage years and they want to buy a car and when they go for a credit check, that child’s the proud owner of about 10 credit cards and other issues they didn’t know anything about. College students, military members, veterans and seniors are also prime targets but this can happen to anyone at any time. Your personal information is only as secure as you keep it or disclose it, so you have to be the police of your information.”
Some of the effects from being a victim of identity theft, Klassen continued, could include the victim’s bank accounts being drained, major purchases being made with the victim’s credit cards, new accounts being opened, among other issues.
“There was the story in the news recently about the lady who had murdered two people including a lady who looked like her,” Klassen said. “The lady who looked like her was killed so her identity could be stolen. Identity thieves can take out loans in your name and even file false tax returns, which is actually a bit of an issue right now. Like what was said earlier if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Sometimes, it takes a person four years to realize they’re a victim of identity theft, that’s the average.”
Klassen and Garinger both offered some advice on protection against identity theft, including using a secure mailbox or taking packages and letters directly to the post office, shredding sensitive information and covering the pin pad at the grocery store, avoiding giving information over the phone and being vigilant in checking bank accounts, among other advice. Klassen also shared some startling statistics regarding identity theft.
“Someone’s identity is stolen once every two seconds,” Klassen said. “Medical identity theft is on the rise. In 2014, $5.8 billion was given to identity thieves from the IRS alone because of those false returns I mentioned earlier. The number one consumer complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission was identity theft and it’s been ranked first for 15 years running. 19 people become victims of identity theft every minute, which means one whole half of this room could become victims of identity theft in the next minute’s time and it will cost an individual an average of $500 to clear their names and 30 hours of work to straighten everything out.”
After Klassen and Garinger finished their presentation, LPD Corporal Josiah Smiddy then came before the crowd to talk about how law enforcement handles identity theft cases.
“The thing is, everyone up to this point has been talking about the prevention aspect, vigilance and doing your due diligence,” Smiddy began. “But now you’ve had a lapse in judgment and suddenly you’re a victim, so what happens next? You call dispatch, tell them your identity’s been stolen and you need to speak to an officer. They’ll send us by and our initial investigation will start with us confirming you are who you are. Which sounds kind of silly but if we don’t know you are who you are or if you’re the thief, we can’t do much. So we’ll be checking various forms of government identification to confirm all of that and then we’ll have a lot of questions for you about what’s going on since we need to determine how your information was used and how it was compromised. What we’ve seen is someone has lied to us in the past about who they are or it’s a situation where a store you shop at has been hacked and now your information might be compromised. Once we get through all of that, we’ll give you our identity theft packet, which allows us to take your information – with your permission, of course – and put it into our system.”
Smiddy then went more into how that information works for law enforcement and then went into how the follow-up investigation works.
“It really is important to be vigilant with these things like everyone’s been talking about,” Smiddy said. “Understand identity theft works on two different emotions, greed and fear, which is what every here tonight has talked about. You’ll get either that phone call that will scare you if there’s a threat upon your not giving information or they’ll prey on the greed of people. As soon as you know your information’s been compromised, file a report with law enforcement. Even if it’s something like your purse or wallet being stolen and there’s a physical crime to report, having a case number attached helps for in the future. The other thing is, when law enforcement gives you that identity theft packet, take it so our officers can help. The clock starts basically immediately after an incident, so the sooner we can get started on a case, the more damage and issues we can prevent.”