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Ten Questions With… Mari Frank (Part Two)

Mari Frank is a passionate crusader in the fight for privacy and protecting consumers from fraud and identity theft. Her work as a lawyer, author, and radio broadcaster has been dedicated to these causes for nearly twenty years—long before most people had heard of the issues.

I first met Mari at a Ponemon Institute conclave and quickly learned not to underestimate her tenacity. Although ebullient in conversations about sailing, her dogs, and matters of spirituality, she is a relentless advocate for consumer privacy protection born of having been a victim at a time when laws and advocates did not exist to protect consumers.

HoGo CEO Hiro Kataoka also had the pleasure of meeting Mari at the 2013 Ponemon RIM Renaissance and was invited to be a guest on Mari’s radio show, Privacy Piracy, so we thought we’d return the favor and invite her to answer Ten Questions With…

HoGo:  What are some of the biggest challenges that individuals face when it comes to protecting their digital privacy in today’s word of instant communications and social media?

Mari Frank:  Even the largest companies are challenged in protecting their data.  So the companies producing the products are in the best position to make it easy and user friendly to protect data.   Privacy is good for business—it is a value added.   Privacy by Design should be, and it is becoming, the push. This means that at the outset of a new gadget, software, hardware or service, the privacy implications should be built in.  Just as it is easier to put central air conditioning into a home while it is being built, when you add it later it is harder to do, less effective, and may cause damage. The bottom line is that individuals are not as tech savvy as they need to be to protect themselves; therefore, companies have a duty to make privacy protection understandable and easy.

HoGo:  What do you think social media companies could do to make themselves more privacy friendly?

Mari Frank:  That is not their intent; they make money when we expose our likes and preferences openly. It’s not in their best interest.  Without some real industry standard or guidelines or legislation it won’t happen unless there is a lawsuit and they get hit hard.   Consumers beware.

HoGo:  Your book From Victim to Victor, last updated in 2005, was first written in 1998—long before identity theft was a headline issue. What inspired you to write that book and how long had you been involved in the issue of identity theft at that time?

Mari Frank:  A woman stole my identity in 1996 and paraded as a lawyer using my name, purchased a car on my credit and stole thousands of dollars using my identity. I thought I would be disbarred. There were no laws in 1996 making identity theft a crime against consumers—so I wrote the laws, was summoned to testify, and spoke out. The media picked it up. I was on Dateline, 48 Hours, all the major news networks and 300 radio shows.

Identity theft was becoming an epidemic and I had lived it and survived it. As an attorney, people saw me on TV and called my office—literally thousands—so I wrote the book and included step-by-step instructions and a CD with legal letters for victims to complete and send. I gave them the law so they would not have to hire me or another lawyer.

HoGo:  How have the threats to identity changed in the 15 years since you wrote that book?

Mari Frank:  Well, it’s still an epidemic, but now there are dozens of identity theft protection services that advertise like crazy guaranteeing that they will protect you from ID theft.  The reality is if someone wants to steal your identity they can do it for money, to commit crimes in your name, to act as a legal citizen, or do anything you can do.  I see it all the time. There are more laws, but consumers also have more help than when I was a victim.

A couple of years ago I wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Recovering from Identity Theft dealing with the newest trends including medical ID theft and cyber ID theft and child ID Theft. It builds on what I wrote years before.

HoGo:  Another of your books, Safeguard Your Identity, takes more of a preventative approach to addressing identity theft. What is the primary message that book?

Mari Frank:  It is meant to be a personal privacy audit. It helps you assess what you need to do to protect your privacy and be more conscious of the threats. For example, many people have debit cards; I would never have a debit card because the account number can be used to siphon all your money out of your account and you must then try to get it back from the bank.  Unlike credit cards that protect you from fraud with the Fair Credit Billing Act, you don’t have the same federal protections.

With fraudulent credit card charges you have the opportunity to review your bill and dispute fraud charges—and you won’t lose money as long as you inform the credit card company within 60 days of receiving your bill.  With a debit card the money is gone; you can’t pay your rent or mortgage, checks and automatic payments will bounce.  It is a nightmare. And unfortunately, I know of victims who spend many months trying to get their money back.

Safeguard Your Identity helps consumers to be proactive to avoid the challenges of fraud and identity theft.

HoGo:  In eight years of broadcasting your radio show, Privacy Piracy, is there one interview that stands out? Who was that guest and why?

Mari Frank:  Yes! Although I have had many great guests, I was most privileged to interview Columbia’s Professor Alan Westin, who died in 2013.  He was the “father of information privacy” with his ground breaking book Privacy and Freedom.  Mr. Westin was considered to have almost single-handedly created the modern field of privacy law. He testified frequently on the subject before Congress, spoke about it on television and radio and wrote about it for newspapers and magazines. He was the most important scholar of privacy since Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

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