Awareness is best defense against ID theft and fraud for Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hawai‘i ranks 42nd among states regarding identification theft complaints, but there is still concern on Kaua‘i and much to learn about prevention.

According to a Federal Trade Commission report on identification theft released late last month, there were 589 ID theft complaints in the state. Around 411 of them were in Honolulu in 2011, where the city ranks No. 349 nationwide in metro area ID theft complaints.

Border states make up the top five in the ID theft rankings, according to Paige Hanson, manager of education programs for Lifelock, a firm specializing in prevention and awareness training. They also lead for different reasons than the islands.

Arizona, Texas, California and Florida lead in part, she said, because of larger  numbers of undocumented residents using stolen Social Security numbers. Roughly 30 percent of complaints in these states involve ID theft of government documents and benefits that have to do with Social Security, she said.

Credit card fraud leads all complaints in Hawai‘i at 18 percent, Hanson said. The national average for credit card fraud is 14 percent.

Bank fraud, someone withdrawing money on your behalf, follows at 14 percent in Hawai‘i. Stealing personal information related to government documents and benefits numbers 11 percent in the state.

The statistics don’t break down to specific numbers on Kaua‘i, but from sitting through cases in 5th Circuit Court, it is clear that credit card theft ranks high among identity theft cases. The victims are not always tourists, but they often are people who have smart phones or laptops stolen in restaurants, hotel rooms and even at the beach from an unattended bag.

Other than the security of valuables, there are also scams that succeed in obtaining identity information directly from the victim. The majority are debt collection scams, where the caller uses information gathered from a list and refers to what they know to gain trust and then uses a fear-based message.

According to Hanson, a common deceptive tactic is to represent an agency or a collection firm. Once they have the caller believing they are handling a delinquent account, it is easy to get them to pay over the phone because they fear bigger problems or even an arrest warrant.

Other complaints noted in the report are with bogus sweepstakes and lottery calls, as well as fraudulent work at home sales work. The calls often come from overseas and result in the victim unknowingly aiding in the international trafficking of stolen goods and fraud.

There are also jury duty scams where someone calls pretending to represent the government to say the victim has missed jury duty and has a warrant out for their arrest. They wind up providing all kinds of sensitive information in the interest of staving off the bogus bench warrant.

Other law enforcement scams have to do with the “red-light cameras” that take photos of moving traffic violations. They claim that citations have gone unpaid and solicit credit card information to pay the fine and avoid a bogus contempt of court charge.

Hanson notes that people using unknown WiFi signals also run the risk of surrendering sensitive password information. She recommends that people encrypt their home WiFi networks and, when browsing the Internet in public places, not to visit sites requiring password information.

When receiving emails regarding the status of credit card or banking accounts, Hanson recommends not clicking on the links in the email. She said it is much safer to manually type in your known link and check the messages there to be sure they are real.

False charities are among the largest frauds and often call to solicit donations. Hanson said the small charities suffer most because people don’t know who they are.

She recommends checking the source and donating directly to the charity — not to the solicitor.

There were 260,000 fraudulent tax filings in 2010. According to Hanson, people use a stolen identity to file a false form to get the refund.

“If you are a victim, please report the fraud or identity theft to www.ftc.gov,” Hanson said. “Look on the upper right-hand corner, and click on ‘report an issue,’ and ID theft is one of those issues.”

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or tlaventure@ thegardenisland.com.

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