Posted on: Tuesday, November 29, 2005
4 'common sense' laws against ID theft proposed
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
PROTECT YOUR IDENTITY
Mail your bills at the post office or put them in a secured postal box. Don't place them in residential mailboxes where they can be stolen.
Don't just toss in the rubbish credit-card offers, unsolicited checks and other personal financial information — such as bank statements, credit or ATM receipts and credit-card bills. Consider taking them to your office or another place with an industrial-type cross-cut shredder. Don't rely on a straight-cut shredder to do the job.
Keep track of your bills by making sure that they match your purchases. Check accounts online if you have computer access.
Be careful about providing your Social Security number, account numbers and any other personal information. Banks, businesses and government officials won't call or e-mail you to ask for confidential information.
Sources: Honolulu Police Department, state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
Honolulu police Lt. Jeff Richards speaks from experience as a victim of identity theft and as an investigator who believes tougher laws are needed to fight this fast-growing crime.
Richards and prominent attorney Bill McCorriston are high-profile victims who have had their personal information stolen, allowing the thieves to charge purchases and get cash. They joined Gov. Linda Lingle and various law enforcement officials yesterday in calling for four new laws to help fight this form of fraud.
Lingle called the proposals "common-sense measures to protect consumers from the fastest-growing crime in the nation."
In June, Richards was on a Mainland trip when someone stole checks from his mailbox and quickly ran up $2,200 in bills.
At the time, he was overseeing the financial fraud unit and knew that the crime is becoming more common, having dealt with it twice in two years himself.
Even with his expertise, Richards found the experience frustrating and figures it must be doubly discouraging for people who are more easily intimidated by bureaucracies.
"It took me about four months to get it cleared up," he said.
State Commerce and Consumer Affairs Director Mark Recktenwald said Hawai'i ranks fifth in the nation for prevalence of identity theft — the term for someone using your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
He said the state also will run a public-awareness campaign along the theme: "Don't let bad things happen to your good name."
Recktenwald said similar laws have been passed in 12 states. He said he hopes the increase in cases will help persuade lawmakers to pass something next session that they did not support this year.
Lingle spoke about safeguards needed during this busy holiday spending season. She said she especially worries that the elderly will fall victim to scams and lose their life savings.
The four proposals:
Credit freeze, allowing Hawai'i consumers who are victims of identity theft to place a security freeze on their credit reports to stop the release of credit information without consent.
Security breach notification, requiring agencies that collect personal information to notify individuals if that information is compromised.
Disposal of personal information, requiring Hawai'i businesses to establish security procedures to maintain confidentiality of customers' personal data and require that it be destroyed when no longer needed.
Social Security number protection, restricting the use of a Social Security number by banning communication of such numbers to the general public, prohibiting printing on identification cards or mailings and banning transmission of customer Social Security numbers to third parties without the customers' written consent.
Attorney McCorriston noted that he has the resources to persevere where others might tire of struggling to clear their good credit. He said his troubles started when someone burglarized his office and stole his passport and other documents.
"It can happen to anyone," McCorriston said. And he said much of his trouble after the theft was prompted by his Social Security number being linked to a crime.
Once the federal government issues a Social Security number, it stays with that individual, he said.
"They won't give you a new number. The number you get is your number for life," he said.
Richards now cautions people about the importance of shredding. He said investigators have found that some thieves who go through people's trash will take time to piece together financial information.
He said the problem has emerged more with crystal methamphetamine, or ice, users, who will stay up for days or weeks without sleep and become engrossed in taping together shredded paper to find the personal information that was supposed to have been destroyed.
"It'd drive me nuts but not them," Richards said.
And that's why he recommends that people shred potentially sensitive financial information with a cross-cut shredder.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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