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Ten Questions With… Eva Velasquez (Part Two)

Today we continue our Data Privacy Day conversation with Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

The Identity Theft Resource Center was founded in 1999 as a nonprofit organization with a threefold mission: to raise awareness of the fast-growing crime of identity theft, to educate consumers about how to minimize their risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, and to be a free resource to help victims of identity theft clear their names, their financial and medical records, and get their lives back in order.

Since that time the Identity Theft Resource Center has helped tens of thousands of people who have found themselves victims of identity theft, medical identity theft, credit card fraud, social engineering scams, and other crimes.

HoGo:  Can you describe any trends you’ve noticed recently that suggest a change in the identity theft landscape, or have the challenges remained fairly consistent?

Eva Velasquez:  One of the bigger challenges that has emerged is general consumer apathy. We attribute this to the fact that consumers are bombarded with information about goods and services they need, or about the next scary thing such as a new virus (computer or human).  This can be so overwhelming they simply must cut out some of the clatter.  It becomes easy to categorize identity theft as clatter when consumers are exposed to the strong media coverage touting a dramatic decrease in property crime in the United States.  This creates a scenario where consumers believe that the crime of identity theft is over sensationalized and just hype. There is a disconnect as professionals in this space continue to talk about the dramatic increase in this crime, while at the same time reports proliferate about the incredible decrease in the overall crime rate.

The fact is that the manner in which we measure the overall property crime rate in this country is desperately in need of revision. The original metrics were chosen in 1930. The only addition occurred in 1979 when arson was added. Neither identity theft nor fraud are included as one of the metrics to measure the property crime rate in this country. The US has changed dramatically since 1930. The types of crimes that are being committed have changed as well.

HoGo:  My mantra when it comes to email, links and invitations shared via social media, and telephone solicitation is: if you don’t expect it, suspect it. What simple advice do you share to help make people aware of the dangers of schemes like phishing?

Eva Velasquez:  Terrific Mantra. I have always said that if you are not the one to initiate contact then you should be suspicious.  You pick the organizations that you will communicate with, don’t let them pick you.  You said it in a much more memorable way.

HoGo:  Medical identity theft is on the rise, yet it is harder for people to detect. What are the things that patients need to know when they interact with a healthcare provider that can prevent misuse of their medical records and insurance?

Eva Velasquez:  There are no methods that can guarantee you won’t become a victim of identity theft. However, there are some simple things you can do to minimize your risk. This is a great time to ask two questions: Do you need this information, and if so, how do you safeguard it?

You may learn that the staff is regularly trained in best practices and they limit access to sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) to only those employees who must have access to it do their job. Or you may learn that your information is stored out in the open, never locked up, and everyone has access. The answers will help you to determine if you want to continue to go to those facilities.  You can also request to review your patient records to check for fraudulent information. Lastly, when you receive an Explanation of Benefit (EOB) statement, read it.  Often consumers read the first line that states, “This is not a bill,” and they don’t read any further.  Checking to ensure that the services described are actually services you received is very important.

HoGo:  How does the response to medical identity theft differ from the steps taken to address more typical identity theft?

Eva Velasquez:  Medical identity theft is harder to remediate because there is no central reporting system like with the financial system and the CRAs. Due to the lack of a central reporting and monitoring system, there is no way for you to warn every healthcare provider in the nation that your medical identity is at risk. The thief is free to use your information at will. You must go through individual medical service providers and report the identity theft as it comes up.

HoGo:  What do you see in the world of identity theft in 2014?

Eva Velasquez:  One of the changes we believe we will see is in the way identity is defined. We think of our PII as our identity but we should also include our biometrics and our behavior as part of that definition. Biometrics, such as our fingerprints, have been in use for a while, but will likely become more mainstream. Our behavior has been used in fraud analytics and for marketing purposes, but we generally don’t think about this being part of our “identity” – we should.  We go into further detail in our 2014 trends and predictions article.

HoGo:  What haven't we discussed in this forum that you believe should be an important part of the conversation related to identity theft awareness?

Eva Velasquez:  It’s important for people to realize that identity theft and related frauds and issues are a significant problem for the US.  Even though reports indicate that crime is on the decline in this country, this is simply untrue.  Identity theft is a massive crime that affects millions of individuals every year and costs our economy billions of dollars. This is something that we all need to pay attention to.

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