New ID Theft Council Focused on Awareness

Grassroots Group Aims to Touch Every U.S. Community

By , November 7, 2010.
New ID Theft Council Focused on Awareness

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he vulnerabilities of Social Security numbers are obvious. Mari Frank, an attorney and certified information privacy expert who once had her identity stolen, says, "The Social Security number is the key to the kingdom of almost every type of identity theft."

Neal O'Farrell shares Frank's view, and it's the reason he's pushing for a national database of compromised Social Security numbers, as well as a network of identity-theft victims. Through the Identity Theft Council, O'Farrell, a cybercrime and identity-theft expert, is starting at the grassroots level, where the pains of identity theft are felt the strongest.

"We have to find some national way to communicate, particularly when it comes to Social Security numbers," O'Farrell says. "There's no easy way to put a fraud alert on our Social Security number. We need to figure that out."

The newly created ITC is a national network of partnerships between local law enforcement agencies, businesses and volunteers that aims to provide local and in-person support for victims of identity theft. Started in Hayward, Calif., located just outside San Francisco, the council has quickly spread to 40 communities. A sub council was recently established in San Francisco, what O'Farrell calls the "No.1 city for identity theft in the country," and plans are underway to create a similar presence in Washington D.C. "We want to have a strong presence on the east coast, and we want to launch in thousands of communities throughout the country," he says.

ITC is Unique

A number of identity theft organizations, including the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Identity Theft Resource Center, have for a number of years promoted and supported the need for stronger identity-theft protections. But O'Farrell says ITC is unique because of its grassroots.

"Law enforcement needs help, and they need help at the local level -- that's where the fight against identity theft begins," he says. "We're grassroots, and that makes us different. Our council is all volunteer, and we're bringing in volunteers from credit unions and banks, local government, across the board."

O'Farrell says the ITC is getting financial institutions involved in the education effort as a way to educate consumers and train bank and credit union employees about how to help customers and members protect themselves from identity theft. Banks and credit unions are truly at the heart of ITC's mission to thwart identity theft. "Financial institutions need to do more consumer education about identity theft," O'Farrell says. "They are the key, the conduit. They are in the best position to educate consumers about protecting their identities and their livelihood."

ID Theft Victim Fights Back

Karen Lodrick, a San Francisco artist who had her identity stolen, has joined forces with O'Farrell to help the council. Simply put, Lodrick says, "Law enforcement needs help. They can't do it alone." When Lodrick's identity was stolen, she quickly learned there was little law enforcement or her bank could do to help her. And beyond calling the credit bureaus and closing open accounts, Lodrick found her owns hand tied, preventing her from doing much to help herself.

"I found out that the banks don't have a network or a way to communicate with each other," making it easy for the woman who stole her identity to open fraudulent bank accounts at different institutions throughout San Francisco. Lodrick, who quickly wised to the circuit her Social Security double was working, made it her mission to create her own communications network with most of the banking institutions in her community. Eventually, Lodrick's work paid off, and the thief of her identity was captured.

The experience taught Lodrick a number of lessons that will help the council grow. "They say it's not a physical crime, but the pain of identity theft lingers," she says. "We have to remember to always put the victim first."

Follow Tracy Kitten on Twitter: @FraudBlogger

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