Monday, May 19, 2008

Dangers of identity theft

Dangers of identity theft
Ames Tribune
Steffen Schmidt, Iowa State University professor of political science, is shown during a taping of “Dr. Politics” in the WOI Studios in the Communications Building on the ISU campus. Schmidt, who has been the co-host of the program for more than 16 years, recently co-wrote a book on identity theft."
Contributed photo by Stan Brewer/Special to the Tribune
Steffen Schmidt, Iowa State University professor of political science, is shown during a taping of “Dr. Politics” in the WOI Studios in the Communications Building on the ISU campus. Schmidt, who has been the co-host of the program for more than 16 years, recently co-wrote a book on identity theft.

Here's a nightmare scenario: Someone using your name, your Social Security number and your birth date has done something terrible. Maybe they've charged up thousands of dollars and vanished, leaving you to foot the bill. Maybe they've committed some criminal act, and now police are knocking at your door. Or maybe they've committed an act of terrorism using your identity, which you hadn't even realized had been stolen.

All these things can and have happened, said Steffen Schmidt, an Iowa State University professor of political science who, along with Michael McCoy, a graduate student and researcher at ISU's Center for Information Protection, has been studying identity theft for five years.

Schmidt and McCoy's new book, "The Silent Crime: What You Need to Know About Identity Theft," recently was released and is available at the ISU Bookstore.

HIS TAKE ...

... on the quickest way to get your identity stolen:
The quickest way is to lose your wallet and have your Social Security number and other information in there ... The Internet is not yet the major way that people's identities are taken by someone else.

... on the worst ID theft case he's ever heard of:
Some really terrible cases are a guy in Florida who was arrested and thrown in jail and accused of several crimes in Texas, serious crimes. He tells them, "I've never been in Texas, that isn't me." And they say, we've got your Social Security number, and we know it's you. He spends almost a month in jail, can't prove that he was not the one who committed the crimes. Then the authorities in Texas find a guy who's using this guy's name and Social Security number, and he finally gets released. But he had no way of essentially proving the contrary.

... on the maximum amount of damage an identity thief could do to someone:
Millions of dollars, and in some cases worse than that. If your identity is stolen by someone who wants to commit terrorism, and they do, you are arrested because it's your name, it's your Social Security number, it's everything about you that's connected to these acts. Nowadays, you may end up somewhere in detention with no recourse through the courts because terrorist cases in many countries, including the U.S. now, are not tried publicly.

...on the percentage of identity thieves who have been caught:
The percentages are really very low.

Is the public perception of ID thieves as hackers hunched over computer screens?

Unfortunately, to some extent, it is. And it's true that that is becoming the most vulnerable area in the future for identity theft, and therefore people forget that a lot of it is committed in common places by someone observing you punch the numbers in to your ATM machine, by somebody stealing mail out of your mailbox or off your desk.

... on the best way to protect oneself against the threat of identity theft:
I think there are two things. One is to be aware that you have a lot of information that is very sensitive and keep it in a safe place. Do the same when you're at your computer. The other thing that I've done for several years is I actually have an identity theft insurance policy. It's a small policy, very inexpensive.

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