Identity theft rooted in documents – shred them

Identity theft rooted in documents – shred them

By Wayne Jackson
3/7/2006 – By Wayne Jackson
Published: Tuesday, March 7, 2006

In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a concert or game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, change your cell phone provider or apply for a credit card. Chances are you don’t give these everyday transactions a second thought.

But an identity thief does.

Identity theft is a serious crime. Last year, millions of Americans – including many people right here in Lane County – had their livelihoods robbed by identity theft. People who fall victim to this crime can spend months or years and thousands of dollars cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of a good name and credit record.

In the meantime, victims of identity theft may lose job opportunities; be refused loans for education, housing or cars; and even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. Humiliation, anger and frustration are among the feelings victims experience as they navigate the process of rescuing their identity.

Identity theft is a low-risk, high-reward crime. The average fraud loss per victim is about $4,800. And, while consumers often are indemnified by financial institutions against fraud, businesses bear the burden of this growing crime to the tune of more than $51 billion a year.

Think of what $51 billion could buy in new schools, highway improvements or tax relief.

It is time to fight back by minimizing the risk of identity theft and by supporting our law enforcement officials with the tools to help them arrest and prosecute the thieves.

Identity theft is not primarily a high-tech crime. Think of Dumpster-diving. Think of stolen wallets, credit cards or checkbooks. Think of postal fraud. Think of theft of private and personal papers from cars, homes or businesses. According to one research report, only 11.6 percent of identity theft crimes are committed on computers.

Identity thieves generally look for things that contain someone’s name, address, phone number, Social Security number, credit card and bank information.

They also like to steal insurance documents, prescription drug information, medical infor- mation, old tax records and business records – anything that can be used to create new identification documents. Computer tapes, stolen laptops and inside jobs also constitute a growing proportion of causes.

While much has been written about what individuals should do, businesses also must act to protect themselves from identity theft. Legally, businesses are accountable for:

• Properly training employees on how to handle confidential consumer information.

• Developing a records-retention policy and process.

• Developing strict privacy policies.

• Properly destroying and resolving files no longer in use that contain private consumer information.

• Protecting personal or private consumer information.

New federal laws require businesses to destroy any documents that contain private consumer information before it is discarded. The new laws focus on financial institutions, institutions that deal with consumer finance and credit, and health care organizations (hospitals, insurers, retirement homes, doctors’ offices, drugstores, etc.).

In most cases, it’s recommended that certified document destruction companies handle the destruction of documents.

Businesses and consumers need to band together to be more vigilant and to minimize the risk of identity theft. Here’s how:

• We can support our law enforcement community with tougher laws, stiffer penalties and more resources for prosecuting these crimes.

• We can clear out the old records that have been piling up in storage and destroy them.

• We can destroy documents by shredding them ourselves, or by taking them to a reputable and certified document destruction business.

As responsible business owners, we owe it to our employees and our communities to give a second thought to identity theft, before the thieves do.

Wayne Jackson is general manager at the Weyerhaeuser document destruction and recycling plant in Glenwood.

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