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Session focuses on identity theft

Paige Hanson, manager of educational programs at LifeLock, gave some tips on how to prevent identity theft at a seminar at the Albany Welcome Center Monday afternoon. Law enforcement officials say this is a growing problem in the area.

Paige Hanson, manager of educational programs at LifeLock, gave some tips on how to prevent identity theft at a seminar at the Albany Welcome Center Monday afternoon. Law enforcement officials say this is a growing problem in the area.

ALBANY, Ga. — Ultimately, the best way to deal with identity theft is to institute safeguards to prevent it.

That was the message given to the public as well as the community's business leaders during two informational sessions in Albany on Monday.

"Identity theft is a growing problem," said Mark Scott, deputy chief for the Albany Police Department. "It is very difficult to investigate and prosecute.

"The biggest step is to help prevent it in the first place. We are regularly getting reports of people getting calls from their banks or of cases in which (a thief's efforts) have been successful."

Area law enforcement officials are expected to be in a daylong training session today to help them more effectively investigate cases of identity theft, Scott said.

The first of two sessions on Monday, attended primarily by area businessowners, was conducted at the Albany Welcome Center and led by Paige Hanson, educational programs manager for LifeLock.

Statistics from her presentation indicate that identity theft cost Americans $37 billion in 2010. Georgia is ranked fourth in identity theft rates with 22 breaches reported in 2011.

Roughly 14 percent of all cases are used for phone or utility payments, while 15 percent account for credit card fraud. Nineteen percent of cases are connected to government documents, and 10 percent of fraud cases are instances of bank fraud.

There are even cases of identity theft connected to medical treatment services, which officials say are on the rise.

"People are going into hospitals and having procedures done in someone else's name," Hanson said.

Some of the more common methods of identity theft include Dumpster diving, theft of a wallet or purse, information left in a vehicle or what officials call "shoulder surfing."

There is a piece of equipment known as a "skimmer," which fits into the palm of someone's hand. With the swipe of a card, all the information from that card can be obtained.

It can hold up to 1,000 numbers.

"It can be placed over an ATM card reader or any point-of-sale terminal," Hanson said.

Various scanning devices can also be used so that thieves can make duplicates of the card they are attempting to steal.

Breaches are also common, Hanson said, on social networking sites, where there is greater public access to certain types of information.

"I often get false requests from LinkedIn," she said. "I would recommend going to a different browser and signing in rather than opening the link in an email."

Hanson said it is also recommended that people regularly use password-protected sites, or secure sites, which are generally recognized as those that begin with "https."

At the root of the problem, Hanson explained, is the fact that social security numbers are not an effective source of identification, and they don't expire. There are reduced resources for investigating cases of identity theft, and laws vary state-to-state.

As far as prevention methods go, Hanson recommends utilizing credit monitoring or credit freezes — which are designed to prevent new lines of credit from being opened under a person's name. It is also recommended that parents suppress their child's credit up until age 18 so that the next generation is protected.

Fraud alerts, which inform a person when a new line of credit is opening under their name, are also effective.

"It's not bulletproof, but it is the best proactive way of protecting yourself," Hanson said.