Identity Theft and Affordable Prevention

Last week, I hosted a community discussion on identity theft. Our expert that evening was the Director of the Identity Theft Council. The meeting was filled with shock, drama and some hope at the end.

The stats are brutal: 1 million people are victims of identity theft each month in the USA. If we only look at property crimes in 2011, there were more victims of identity theft than all burglaries, attempted burglaries, arson, vehicle theft, purse snatchings, pick-pocketings, check fraud and shoplifting combined.

Out of the 12 million incidents in the USA last year, only 1 percent were investigated and an even smaller portion of that 1 percent is caught and prosecuted. Identity theft is the number one complaint to the FTC for 12 years in a row. One reason for such a low investigation rate across the country is the jurisdictional issues—the victim may live in Denver but the multiple offenses were done in other states or countries.

The speaker at our meeting said that if your social security number is stolen, you will endure years of pain dealing with debt collectors because the Social Security administration will not do anything to resolve this issue. The new trend with stolen social security numbers is to file false tax returns and make up information that enables a tax refund check to be mailed to a temporary address. The IRS lost $5 billion last year in fraudulent tax returns and the IRS expects to lose the same amount this coming year.

Recently, an organized crime ring in Florida was caught. They stole approximately $130 million, which seems more profitable than drug dealing. Sadly, a Florida postal carrier was killed so the assailants could get a postal key that opens up mailboxes. Closer to home, in San Ramon, a corner mailbox drop was recently ripped out of the concrete by a car with attached chains to steal mail within the mailbox.

When it comes to online shopping, there has been a breach of personal information every day for the last five years, and these are the companies that will admit a breach has occurred. Millions of people have had their personal information exposed via these breaches.

Now for the glimmer of hope. How can we avoid becoming a victim?

Freeze your credit
Consumers may call the three credit agencies (Transunion, Experian,Equifax) and have their credit frozen. This blocks anyone from opening a new line of credit with your credit history. Once your credit is frozen you will no longer need to monitor your credit for anything odd. You may unfreeze with a pin number that will be provided to you by each credit agency.

Do not use ATM machines for anything but withdrawing money
Only use credit card at stores to charge something, not an ATM card. (The reason is a stolen ATM card number drains money out of your own account versus charging the credit card company.)

File your tax returns early
This helps prevent someone from filing a fraudulent return using your social security number. The IRS only verifies the SS# and not the address or employer.

Only use one computer or device to access online banking
And avoid unsecured WiFi.

Avoid using banks “Apps”
Technology still needs to improve.

For passwords, choose a sentence that contains proper nouns and numbers rather than a password.
This type of sentence has everything you need to make it unbreakable with capital letters and numbers. Tweak/change your sentence password phrase periodically.

Do not send money or share personal data via email with your new friend from Nigeria, as this and others like it our scams.

At this point in time the best web browser is Microsoft IE, which identifies 96 percent malware while Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox detect less than 10 percent of malware. Apple Safari was not mentioned. Even free Anti-Virus software is effective like AVG, Panda & Immunet.

Instead of shopping online, purchase items at stores in San Jose.

Avoid signing up for identity/credit services like LifeLock that make big promises when all you need to do is freeze your credit.

When disposing of a computer or PDA, strip the device of all data.

Use a crosscut shredder for your financial documents before disposing.
If you have already implemented a strong password phrase for your email, then go paperless with your current paper financial statements.

An ounce of prevention is worth peace of mind.

On Another Note:
If you enjoy theater with strong and complex dialogue, then I highly recommend the David Mamet play, “Race” now being performed at the San Jose Stage Company.

Pierluigi Oliverio is a San Jose councilmember for District 6.

14 Comments

  1. This list of tips will certainly help reduce one’s risk of identity fraud but the reality of the situation is that most people won’t implement these steps on a daily basis because it’s simply too impractical.

    An easier way is needed, one that makes security AND convenience a priority.

    ICONNs from TASCET is the most effective solution to preventing identity fraud. With ICONNs, consumers are always in complete control of their identity at all times.

  2. Thank you for the tips, very helpful. My parents have been victims twice, and both cases resulted from using their debit cards while on long road trips.  Keeping your tips in mind can only help one’s odds of not becoming a victim.

    • Yes, thank you for continuing to demonstrate exactly how our elected representatives have failed in their civic responsibilities.

      Thank you for standing idle while our very own city police departments fraud investigations unit has been systematically eliminated under your term. The same unit responsible for protecting victims of identity theft and prosecuting offenders.

      Thank you for allowing the city’s crime prevention division to be eliminated. The division that was composed of our own local experts on identity theft prevention, burglary prevention, neighborhood watch,  and countless other “prevention” functions.

      Thank you for failing to tell all the attendees that every city, corporation, school, and law enforcent agency offers some form of identity theft prevention guidelines and that your small meeting was just a repeating of the same information available online.

      Thank you for not having the courage to make the tough unpopular decisions for the betterment of our neighborhoods.

      So great that you can promote a downtown theater, but thanks for not telling everyone that it’s not safe to walk anywhere downtown after the show. Isn’t Downtown great?

      Thanks or allowing your district to be over populated with Marijuana clubs but failing to collect any sales taxes from the clubs themselves.

      And most importantly, thank you for being the flaccid ineffective representative more concerned with the downtown arts than the safety and well being of their own local community.

      Thanks Mr Oliverio! Thanks!

  3. One more tip that courageous Pier left out. Don’t call the San Jose Police Department because we do not have a unit to investigate this crime. So the person or people who commit this crime in the jurisdiction of San Jose will not be prosecuted.

    Why? Waiting for Measure B to kick in. Not! The city of San Jose withdrew it’s lawsuit last week from federal court, knowing they would lose, what a waste of $300,000 grand. Now that the Measure B is in the state courts, the vested rights doctrine kicks in, not good for the city.

    So, unless your stabbed or shot, punched in the face by your significant other (may take a couple hours to get there) don’t call.

    One more thing, since 90% of all the homicides are committed by gang members and 90% of all attempted murders are committed by gang members, who can you sit and tell us that the mayors gang task force is working?

    Please respond, but first, get permission from daddy.

  4. Reading some of the comments it appears that there are some members of SJPD who are suffering from a medical condition called “low morale” or “LM” for short.
    LM is caused by outside forces and is completely beyond the control of those whom it afflicts. Intervention is required. Victims of LM often claim to have a craving for ‘respect’. Despite this claim, studies have shown that respect alone seldom alleviates the condition. Studies show that, particularly in severe cases, LM can only be eliminated by administering massive, regular doses of money to the patient. Unfortunately though, there has been extensive evidence that once this prescription begins, addiction is almost certain. The dosage of money must be increased, usually by at least 3% each year, or the classic symptoms of LM- peevishness, anger, resentment, churlishness, grumbling, veiled threats, etc., are almost certain to return.
    But there is hope. It is the considered opinion of most scholars on the subject that employers can avoid epidemics of LM simply by using the sort of sensible management practices used in the private sector. Key among them is the avoidance of unions. Engaging in risky behaviour such as “collective bargaining” should also be avoided. It has been shown that in the private sector there are occassionally employees who suffer from LM. But the disease itself is contained because of the structure of the organization. Companies that do suffer outbreaks of LM wind up being overwhelmed by their healthier competitors and are efficiently removed from the population.

    • John, this comment is beneath you. You’ve resorted to cheap shots, snarkiness, and fallacy and completely ignored the facts of what’s going on over on Mission St.

      It isn’t just low morale. Officers, Sergeants, Lieutenants are all leaving in numbers which are unprecedented. You can blame things on the Unions, but the fact remains that San Jose spends less per capita on public safety (pension shortfalls included) than most other large cities. Top step officers face the very real prospect of taking home over $22,000 less annually as a result of the implementation of Measure B than they do now.

      Campbell grosses over $7k more annually than SJPD right now and nets $15k more after retirement contributions are factored in *before Measure B. After implementation of Measure B, the difference would be $37,ooo between what a Campbell officer takes home and the San Jose Officer takes home. An SFPD grosses about $21,000 more annually and nets over $27,000 more annually. After Measure B implementation the difference is almost $50,000.

      You fancy yourself some sort of proponent of the free market, but marginalize the ability of officers to support their families on radically less income than they once made. These folks obtained mortgages, loans for cars, etc when they were earning more. Now, many are losing their homes, falling into foreclosure, having to file for bankruptcy. After the implementation of Measure B, it’s probably most would have to file for bankruptcy or lose their homes.

      Given these options: (a) earn vastly less and possibly lose your home or file for bankruptcy or (b) leave SJPD for better pay and benefits in a better-run city and be able to pay your mortgage and bills and even save some money for the future, for kids’ college tuition, etc. What would you choose?

      Then, factor in the fact that the work load in San Jose is becoming unmanageable and the working conditions are becoming increasingly dangerous. I just spoke to an acquaintance who said that he got into a fight with a suspect and had to wait for 5 minutes for help to arrive. This is commonplace where, even a few years ago, it used to be an unusual – extraordinary even – incident.

      The issue here is how San Jose allocates funds and WANTS to allocate funds. They want public safety for peanuts so that they can afford bread and circuses: low income housing, ballparks, vanity projects, public art, an ever-increasing number of libraries which see limited use. The result is that San Jose really does spend less per capita on public safety than other large cities. And so, San Jose will get exactly what it pays for. The current crop of officers – the vast majority of whom are decent, ethical and hard-working men and women of integrity – will leave. And, in a matter of a few years, SJPD will become the west coast equivalent of Katrina-era New Orleans PD.

    • John,
      Your post isn’t funny. Did you know that Police Officers die at a higher rate by committing suicide than from being killed in the line of duty? That is pretty frightening.

      Secondly, if Unions were never formed, you wouldn’t be enjoying the comforts of a decent wage, retirement benefits, and a safe work place. Unions helped get legislation to protect even non Union workers from employer abuse.

      Please don’t make jokes about something so serious, and please educate yourself on the facts.

  5. Officer Anonymous,
    Making the decision to leave the police force is understandable. Staying on but keeping a resentful attitude is inexcusable.
    I’ve read the complete text of Measure B and it’s provisions seem more than fair. Employees are not denied any benefits accrued up until the time of it’s enactment. San Jose may well lose many fine officers who make the decision to move on but I believe the new pay structure and benefits will still be very attractive in an environment where more and more cities and counties find themselves strapped for money.
    You’re right on the money regarding the wasteful and counter productive spending by our city. There’s a dysfunctionality in government that I believe can be traced back to the introduction of unionization of public employees- something that even such staunch labor advocates as FDR and first AFL-CIO president George Meany warned against.
    Providing a competent and professional police force is an essential and legitimate function of government but since the employer, in this case the City of San Jose, does not have any competition and unlike a private business no incentive to turn a profit, and hence no market forces compelling it to keep it’s expenses down, the wages and terms of employment would naturally be more than fair. Such was the case up until about 30 years ago. Public employees are the last people who need the added power and protection of unionization.
    I know. Things will probably never change. “Forward” is the mantra of our progressive President and forward we shall go. We won’t go back. Unions are here to stay and there’s nothing I can do about it. But I’m tired of hearing history rewritten and when it’s clear to me what’s going on it’s cathartic to record the truth before the tidal wave of revisionism washes it away for good.

    • Measure B more then fair?

      Let me run this by you.
      I think we can all agree that social security is the biggest unfounded liability, about 2 trillion dollars in the hole. I do not pay into social security, but I’m sure you do.

      What if a ballot measure was put up for vote that would require you to put up half your monthly salary towards your retirement. For example, you make $5,000 grand a month. You pay $2,500 towards social security every month. It’s fair, why should I have to pay for it.

      So that means, $2,500 for the mortgage, car payment, insurance, gas, food, clothing, saving for college and don’t for forget property taxes.

      That’s why officers are leaving.

      Measure B will be determined in the courts. Court is not going well for the city of San Jose, that’s why you have not heard anything in the local rag. Measure B is a violation of tort law. Any lawyer will tell you it’s illegal.

      So before you make anymore foolish statements, put yourself in the above scenario and see if can do it.

      So when you say Measure B is more then

  6. I have to chime in on the issue of Measure B being more than fair. There are two facts which fly in the face of this law being fair in any way.

    In the first place, it completely upends the disability retirement process by basically saying that if you get hurt on the job and can no longer perform your duties, you can NOT receive a disability retirement if the city offers a job classification you COULD do. It does not, however, state that such a job must also be available for the injured party to fill.

    In other words, if a police officer (for instance) is injured in such a manner or degree that he can no longer fulfill the requirements of the position, but he COULD work as a clerk, he would find himself both unemployed and unable to take a medical retirement if there were no open clerk positions. What is even remotely fair about the City leaving someone who sacrificed his health and well-being for the benefit of the City?

    Secondarily – and here is the central reason why I have, in the past, referred to Chuck Reed as a liar –  although Measure B purports to offer an alternative, lower-cost, reduced benefit pension plan, the reality is that NO SUCH PLAN exists. In order for such a plan to be created, the IRS must give approval and certain rules need to be changed which will require an act of Congress. Other agencies have been waiting years and years for approval of plans similar to what Measure B purports to offer and there is no indication of any kind of forward movement to get those plans authorized.

    And so, the practical outcome is what I described above: officers having to figure out how to live on $39,000 annually after taxes and deductions for benefits. We can NOT opt out of the plan entirely. We can NOT participate in a lower cost plan which does NOT exist and which probably never will. Now, ask yourself this: what kind of person would accept this set of conditions, working in a profession that is demonstrably hazardous, challenging with respect to supporting and participating with family, and deeply stressful, instead of looking for employment elsewhere? Are they insane? Inept? Too stupid to understand what’s going on? Unable to be hired by another agency? And, are these the same kinds of folks who would be the only types to apply for open positions IF Measure B does, by some miracle, get fully implemented?

    Lastly, you’ve argued in the past – as you have here – that San Jose has a monopoly on the provision of services with all the attendant flaws that a monopoly implies. The thing on which San Jose does NOT have a monopoly, though, is the MANPOWER which provides those services. San Jose must compete with other agencies and cities to attract the best, most qualified candidates – particularly for public safety, which, easily, has the most stringent hiring requirements. As described above, San Jose does not in any way compete on an even footing with other agencies. And, although I use only Cambell and SF as examples of the competition, the reality is that the story is similar throughout the Bay Area.

    San Jose must offer the opportunity for a quality of life which is similar to that of its competitors and, at present, it does not. Sergeants here take home less than officers at many agencies throughout the Bay, and, as we are seeing lately, prospects for quality of life and responsible employment are better as far away as Texas, Washington and Oregon. When you have that kind of movement, and the kind of attrition San Jose is suffering, something is seriously wrong.