Identity theft is problematic across the nation, being ranked fourth in the country for reports of identity theft means that Arizona is no stranger to this crime. The Office of the Arizona Attorney General has been instrumental in combating this crime through the creation and collaboration of various organizations and state agencies.

In 2011 the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AZ AGO) was awarded a grant as a part of the National Identity Theft Victims Assistance Networks Project that allowed the office to establish the Arizona Identity Theft Coalition (AITC). To create this coalition, AZ AGO teamed up with various public and non-profit agencies including: the U.S Attorney’s Office, ICE, US Postal Inspector, the IRS, State Bar of Arizona, Police Office Standards and Training Board just to name a few.

AITC’s mission is to raise public awareness through community outreach programs and campaigns, improve inter-agency infrastructure, coordination, and referrals, as well as educate and train service professionals.

William Bessette, Program Administrator for the coalition, states that, “the goals of this coalition are a proactive approach for removing citizens from becoming a victim of identity theft, and equipping law enforcement with better tools and practices to service those who have been victimized.”

Since its beginning, AITC has rolled out two major initiatives as part of their long term goals, the Law Enforcement Best Practices Task Force and the Strategic Education Task Force. Both of these task forces play a role in achieving the goals of the coalition by constructing efficient solutions for resolving identity theft incidences, educating the public on tips for preventing victimization, and raising the public’s awareness regarding identity theft.

In addition to the work done through the AITC, the AZ AGO also strongly advocates specifically for senior citizens and military services members, who are often direct targets of identity theft.

The AZ AGO began the Taskforce Against Senior Abuse (TASA) which is specifically designed to educate and increase awareness of various forms of senior/elder abuse. Seniors are often times the victims of identity theft for several reasons: they are still receiving and sending bank statements in the mail, they carry their Medicare card on their person, and they are easily fooled by fraudulent schemes.

TASA’s community outreach program is dedicated to teaching seniors and their families, law enforcement, caregivers and other groups about how to best protect seniors from being victimized. Through public awareness campaigns, free educational presentations and training videos, TASA has been able to educate the senior community on preventative tips for avoiding identity theft.

Debra Boehlke, Program Manager for the Community Outreach and Educations Division, reminds her TASA presentation audiences, “do not carry your Social Security number on you, or anything that may have your Social Security number on it and protect your mail!”

It is very important that community members invest in cross cut shredders or attend local Shred-a-thons in order to protect their identity from being stolen, as well as mailing personal information in a secure postal box or office. These are just a few of the many steps that TASA advocates to prevent seniors from becoming victims of identity theft.

In addition to the Arizona seniors that are victims of identity theft, numerous military service members find themselves targeted for this crime as well. Approximately 14 % of Arizona Veterans have reported being victims of identity theft. Service members, veterans and their families are more prone to becoming a victim of identity theft mostly because their Social Security number has been used as their Service number for years. Despite a recent push to change service numbers, there is still plenty of other documentation that service members and veterans have that include their Social Security number. Often times, these families do not know how to properly store or dispose this information or sensitive materials get lost in the several times these families tend to move.

“Service Members, Veterans, and their families need to be aware of the potential for them to be victims of consumer fraud and theft. Our Military population is at a greater risk over the general public for crimes such as Identity Theft, and it has to be proactive to protect itself. An important role of the Office of the Attorney General is to provide information and resources for our Military population to help them in that effort. Some of the methods employed by the Office of the Attorney General include partnerships with Military and Department of Defense organizations, providing direct service with community outreach presentations, and facilitating initiatives such as the C.A.M.O. committee. The Attorney General has also expanded his staff to include Veterans and Subject Matter Experts who can address these issues more efficiently,” states Patrick Ziegert, a Community Outreach and Education Specialist, as well as a United States Army Veteran.

The AZ AGO recognizes the abundance of Veterans who are being affected within the state and have implemented a taskforce called CAMO to try and combat several Veterans issues.

CAMO, which stands for “Command, Control, Communication, Connectivity and Intelligence Arizona Military Outreach,” was created in 2011 to address the 600,000 plus Veterans, 15,000 National Guard members, 20,000 active duty Service members and their families who live in Arizona.

In terms of identity theft, CAMO’s “Command” committee is working towards preventative measures and providing assistance for Veterans through education, community outreach, Shred-a-thons, and public service announcements.

The Attorney General’s Office has also been involved with the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program which provides information, instruction, resources and referrals to deploying military units about identity theft and how to freeze their credit before deployment, amongst other things.

The Community Outreach division also works with school aged children to warn them of the dangers of connecting with strangers on line and sharing personal information that an Identity Thief could use against them, their parents, and grandparents. As technology allows us to get connected quicker with more resources, so does the problem of cyber ID theft. We must teach consumers simple practices to treat their phones and computers like they are purses, wallets, or bank accounts. Use secure passwords, be aware of current trends, and pay attention to your credit and accounts. Helping victims becomes easier when they are aware of how the theft may have occurred so they can change their behavior and guard against identity theft.

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The author of the above piece is Kathleen Winn, Director of Community Outreach for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and trained by the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resources Center, Inc. through the Department of Justice.