• BEST IN STATE—Senior Courtney Schoen Lewis was named Best PR Student in Utah. Story

Attorney General talks identity theft at USU

October 26th, 2009 Posted in Opinion

By Ryan Parkinson

LOGAN–Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff spoke to a small crowd in the Sunburst Lounge of the TSC Thursday evening about identity theft. In the last stop of a state-wide identity theft tour, Shurtleff, along with Scott Morrill, head of the Utah Identity Theft Task Force, spoke about the dangers of identity theft and publicized a first of its kind identity theft reporting system that is free and available to anyone.

“Identity theft continues to be the fastest growing crime in the world,” Shurtleff said.

Shurtleff said identity thieves could obtain a person’s information through hi-tech and low-tech methods. “Phishing” schemes take place through e-mail, with someone posing as a governmental official, businessman or an insurance representative asking for personal information. “Smishing” schemes are done the same way but through text messaging.

Despite the advantage of computers and networking, thieves are still excelling at low-technical methods of stealing information. “Shoulder surfers” follow you around through a grocery store or to an ATM, hoping to steal your pin number, driver’s license number or any other personal information. Then, there are the “dumpster divers” who wait until your garbage is out on the curb so they can search for financial documents.

Shurtleff said once the information is in the hands of thieves, the damage done can be devastating. Shurtleff spoke of a 17-year-old USU student a few years ago that tried to get a student loan and was rejected because she was told she had a house that had been foreclosed on. The 17-year-old had no house. Another person had used her social security number and name.

“Some of the worst things about identity theft is not only the fact you lose money, but it destroys your credit and sometimes your good name,” Shurtleff said.

In 2003, Shurtleff got together with members of his staff including Morrill, and discussed a need to establish a go-to resource place that people could visit to report identity theft and be provided with other information and resources to educate them about the fastest growing crime.

“We had multiple people coming into the office or calling daily looking for questions or answers to their problems,” Morrill said. “We would provide some information, but we really couldn’t keep up with the loads of people seeking help.”

It was determined by the Attorney General’s office and the State Legislature in 2003 that establishing a website would be the best tool in providing all of that.

Launched in April of 2006, the Identity Theft Information Reporting System (IRIS), was, and still is a first of its kind system.

”We’re the first in the nation that does state-wide online identity theft reporting or any type of state wide law enforcement reporting,” Morrill said. “We’re kind of the tip of the iceberg here.”

On the Web site, people can report identity theft, get information on recent scams, and learn how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. Morrill says that though there are different types of identity theft, the reporting process has a series of steps to resolve the issue for each different type.

When someone goes online to report a theft of information, it goes through a series of steps and secure servers. Through those servers, the origin of the criminal attack is determined, which authorities within that jurisdiction are notified, and a case file with your information is sent to your local law enforcement offices so they can keep in contact with you.

Morrill said the goal is not only to help people in the education and reporting of identity theft, but also to encourage other states to adopt a similar website and plan so a national system can be established. This would aid in the jurisdiction issues that are complicating the system.

Morrill said that right now if someone is a victim of an identity theft in another state, there’s little Utah authorities can do to resolve it because it’s out of their jurisdiction.

“Identity theft doesn’t stay within your jurisdiction, doesn’t stay within your neighborhood, it doesn’t stay within your state, and a lot of times crosses state lines,” Morrill said.

With all the different ways identity thieves can steal information from you and how vulnerable people are in the modern technological era, Shurtleff said the dangers are real.

“I guess what we’re trying to tell you is, be paranoid,” Shurtleff said.

While one should be cautious and aware of how they handle and release their personal information, Shurtleff and Morrill suggested steps someone can do if they suspect identity theft and to protect themselves from it.

Looking at your credit report at least on a yearly basis to make sure your credit score is fine and nobody is abusing your credit is a simple step people can take. Morrill said that by law each credit reporting agency must give out a few reports a year. Morrill says the safest method of theft prevention is what is known as a “credit freeze.” This is when the credit reporting agency puts a lock on your credit and the only way the true owner can even access it is if you provide the credit reporting agency with a password.

What happens if you decide to purchase a car or a house while you are in a credit freeze? Morrill said in 2007, legislation was passed which grants a 15-minute thaw period that will un-freeze your credit for enough time for a transaction to take place.

Another method of prevention suggested was shredding financial documents instead of throwing them away. Though there are expensive machines and processes that can put it all together, having to go through all that is a deterrent and it’s certainly better than giving them a full document to steal.

Times have changed in America where people now have to take extreme measures to protect their identity because financially, identity is a large part of what you are.

“We used to be known by our associations, the groups we belong to, our families, our clubs, our churches,” Shurtleff said. “People knew each other. Now we are mostly known by little bits of information.”

The money thieves of today don’t need to be wearing ski masks and dressed from black in head to toe, but rather just pretend to be you. For additional information or to report an identity theft, visit http://www.idtheft.utah.gov.

Tags: , ,

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.