Identity Theft Protection

Alan J. Keays Herald Staff
12/10/2005 – ID protection forum shares protection tips

December 10, 2005

By Alan J. Keays Herald Staff

Detective David Schauwecker (left), Laurie Webster of Liberty Mutual Group, and Detective Michael Notte speak at the Identity Theft Forum at the Howe Center in Rutland Thursday evening.
Photo: CASSANDRA HOTALING / RUTLAND HERALD
Everyone attending a forum at the Howe Center in Rutland entered a raffle to win a prize that could prevent them from becoming the next victim of one of the nation’s fastest-growing crimes.

“There’s a drawing for a paper shredder,” said Laurie Webster of Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. “Shredding is the simplest thing you can do to protect your identity.”

Webster, along with detectives from the Rutland City Police, hosted the forum Thursday evening.

The presentation, “Do You Know Who’s Using Your Identity?” drew about two dozen people, ranging from college students to senior citizens.

“The seminar is really about awareness,” Webster said. “We don’t want to scare people.”

Identify theft occurs when a thief takes over a person’s identity by using that person’s social security number, driver’s license number, credit card number or bank account information.

The stolen private information is then used by the thief to get illegal loans or lines of credit to purchase items or services under the stolen name.

Detective Michael Notte said in 2004 there were 208 reported cases of identity theft in Vermont. And in the past six months, he added, the city has investigated about a half-dozen identity theft cases.

“Identity theft is a messed-up crime,” the detective said. “It makes you prove your innocence.”

Notte said identity theft victims often have to work to verify to their financial institution and credit reporting agencies fraudulent spending done in their name.

A new state law that went into effect earlier this year allows consumers to put a “security freeze” on their credit reports, which allows them to stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in the victims’ names.

The new law also requires credit card issuers offering credit cards through the mail to verify changes in addresses of consumers.

Webster and the detective on Thursday tossed out scores of tips for people to use to protect their identity, as well as advice for what to do if someone has their identity stolen.

The biggest suggestion was simply to be extremely careful before giving any personal information to anyone, especially over the phone or on the Internet.

“It’s your identity,” Detective David Schauwecker said. “It’s a pain in the butt for you to get it back.”

Suggestions to protect ID theft included not giving out your social security number unless it’s absolutely necessary, keeping a close eye on your credit cards, and shredding financial documents before putting them in the trash.

The detectives also advised immediately notifying law enforcement and financial institutions as soon as someone suspects they are identity theft victims.

Brad Hunt, a professor of criminal justice at Castleton State College, said he attended the forum with a couple of his students to learn more about ID theft.

“I had a credit card stolen about four or five years ago,” he said.

Hunt said the credit card thief then made several purchases in New York State using his card before he realized the card was stolen and closed the account.

“All the charges were at three or four places in Albany, N.Y., and here I was at work in Castleton,” Hunt said, adding that the credit card company covered his loss. “The irony of it is that the day the charges were made I was teaching criminal justice classes.”

The thief, the professor added, has never been caught.

Schauwecker said ID theft victims not only face having to deal with damage the crime can do to their credit rating. He said in extreme cases an ID thief can commit more serious crimes in another person’s name, which can lead to the wrong person getting in trouble until the mixed-up identity can be sorted out.

“And if you get arrested you could be thrown in jail,” the detective said. “Don’t forget about the cost of that.”

“Priceless,” a man in the crowd replied.

Contact Alan J. Keays at alan.keays@rutlandherald.com.

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