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Jon Fox,
CALPIRG Education Fund

New Report on Technology & Identity Theft Shows Victims are Losing More Money

San Jose, CA – Identity theft remains the nation’s leading method of fraud, with the highest number of nationwide complaints originating here in California. Californians face new threats to their identities including the use of card-skimming devices, abuse of Bluetooth technology, malicious software (“malware”), and attacks on unsecured WIFI.

At a press conference earlier today together  with Detective Ronnie Lopez of the REACT Technology & ID Theft Task, the California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (CALPIRG) released a new report titled “Still @ Risk: New Technology & Identity Theft Trends in California.” The new report highlights new trends regarding identity theft, new threats to consumers, and details recent high-tech identity theft cases.

“Consumers need to stay on their toes, as new technology provides criminals with new opportunities to steal our identity online, at business, and even at home,” warned  Jon Fox, CALPIRG’s Consumer Advocate, adding “This report provides consumers with what they need to know today in order to protect themselves from identity theft.”

CALPIRG’s new report provides consumers with 12 strategies to protect themselves from identity theft and 4 actions they can take if they become victims of identity theft. To help consumers understand the multiple threats to their identity the CALPIRG Education Fund created an online info-graphic detailing the threats consumer’s face online, at home, and while doing business and the actions they can take to protect themselves.

“Criminals look to steal our identity wherever they have an opportunity, whether its card skimmers at gas stations or data breaches at businesses such as Global Payments who lost 1.5 million Visa and MasterCard accounts,” said Jon Fox, noting that while traditional forms of identity theft persist, technology has opened new fronts.

The CALPIRG Education Fund report notes that identity theft is costing consumers more today than in recent years past. Data shows that while the average dollar loss per victim in California was $82 in 2010, in 2011 it ballooned to $786. A recent FTC report also indicated that the average dollar loss per victim in California was 4.8% higher in 2011 then during the previous year.

“The recent data breach at LinkedIn and eHarmony illustrates that consumers can’t always trust big business to keep our information safe and secure,” said Jon Fox, noting that the incidence of identity theft for LinkedIn users was twice as high as the national average. “Consumers today need to be pro-active about the security of their online identity,” concluded Jon Fox.

The new report highlighted several new identity theft techniques, including:

  • Trawling social media web sites in order to find personal information, such as date of birth, mothers’ maiden name, high school, or address. The information collected is later used to commit identity fraud.
  • Criminals secretly recording credit or debit card information and passwords at unsupervised point-of-sale locations using a small electronic device called a “skimmer.”
  • Using “malware” to infect systems used to process customers’ credit and debit card transactions and then collecting customers’ financial information undetected.

CALPIRG’s report provides consumers with the information they need to stay safe online, offline, and even when using smart phones. The report notes 12 simple steps consumers should take to get protect their identity:

  1. Be “stingy” with your nine-digit Social Security number, and never use it as an identifier or password.
  2. Avoid paper billing by requesting secure electronic statements instead.
  3. Lock your mailbox.
  4. Shred documents containing personal information before throwing them away, and password protect sensitive computer files.
  5. Use unique hard-to-guess passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  6. Avoid using the same password across multiple accounts.
  7. Install and update antivirus, anti-malware, and security programs on all computers, tablets, and smart-phones.
  8. Don’t disclose information commonly used to verify your identity on social network sites.
  9. Avoid making purchases or sending sensitive information over unsecured WiFi networks.
  10. Disable Bluetooth connections on devices when not in use.
  11. Watch out for “phishing” scams. If you receive un-solicited requests for personal information in email or over the phone, ignore them.
  12. Fight “skimmers” by not handing your debit card to a server or anyone who could have a hand-held skimming device out of sight.

The CALPIRG Education Fund report concluded with policy recommendations to wage a more efficient fight against identity theft and reduce its incidence and damage.

“Establishing statewide minimum standards for safeguarding personal data combined with a statewide identity theft database, will empower law enforcement agencies and consumer groups with better data needed to better protect consumers from identity theft,” said Jon Fox.

To download a pdf version of “Still @ Risk”, click here.

 

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The California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest. Our research, analysis, reports and outreach serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety and well-being.

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