Erring on the side of caution and spreading awareness are powerful tools to reducing one’s vulnerability to identity theft, said Sgt. Gary Mounts, Maryland Police Assistant Commander of Computer Crimes Unit at a panel discussion at Black Rock Center for the Arts attended by 275.
The event, hosted by Congressman John Delaney, came as a response to recent announcements from the Office of Personnel Management that 21.5 million Americans had their Social Security Numbers exposed to unauthorized parties. The two hour forum featured remarks from State Attorney General Brian Frosh, representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, OPM, the Maryland State Police, US Postal Inspection Services, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
“Identity theft is a growing problem that can often have serious consequences,” wrote Congressman Delaney in a public statement, “the problem is especially acute in Maryland right now, where hundreds of thousands have likely been exposed in recent breaches[…] What happened at OPM is unacceptable and we need to take immediate action at all levels of government.”
FTC attorney Lisa Schifferle noted that Maryland is the sixth highest state for reports of identity theft. Such crimes have ultimately lead to debit card abuse and tax collection fraud. Schifferle further cautioned participants against being phished and noted that medical identity theft will likely be a critical issue in the near future. Additionally, any victims of identity theft or exposure may file complaints with the FTC.
“Scammers are very good at tricking you or scaring you,” said Jeffrey Karberg, a representative from the Maryland State Attorney General’s Office, “half of the speakers on this panel have been victims of identity theft.” Karberg further noted that under the Maryland Personal Information Protection Act, state registered businesses are required to inform consumers or clients of privacy breaches and notify the General Attorney’s office for verification. Privacy breaches include disclosure of first and last name, contact information, Financial Account Number among others.
Though less than three percent of identity thefts occur through misuse, these crimes often involve international perpetrators and victimize diverse populations, said United States Postal Service inspector Charles Wickersham. Wickersham added that a recent string of incidents informally known as the ‘Jamaican scam’ specifically targeted senior citizens, a demographic typically more isolated and less technologically aware. Unbeknownst to their victims, perpetrators calling from the 876 area code disguised as tax collectors or custom officials have already extorted millions difficult to trace and challenging to recover.
“Scammers target older Americans because those who are 65 years or older tend to have more savings,” Wickersham said, “the savings added up together for all senior citizens in this country is about 1.4 trillion dollars, and scammers are good at figuring out what you need.”
Karberg also warned students against scholarship scams especially as they enter college. Noting that although many schools provide validation services, scammers exploit the internet to solicit applications that may ask for personal information. Students should report such instances immediately.
Many local residents voiced their concerns with the escalation of privacy compromises.
“I am one of the 21 million or so American who filled out the ‘security clearance form.’ In that process, I had to reveal a handful of information about my wife and my children their spouse. Now, I don’t know how the information is disseminated,” said Montgomery County resident Colin Alter.
Others inquired about existing measures for tax return protection and government monitoring of suspicious activity.
Delaney is a cosponsor of a legislation to provide lifetime identity protection coverage for prospective and former federal employees.