There’s little doubt that technology has changed the way we interact with the world around us. Just in the space of a single generation, we’ve gone from television being a “newfangled,” World’s Fair-quality invention to carrying portable computers in our pockets. The iconic Dick Tracy wrist communicator is now a reality thanks to smartwatches, and Star Trek’s flip open communicator was reportedly the design inspiration for the old flip phones.

But with the visions of tomorrow becoming a reality today, lawmakers have to work overtime to make sure they’re keeping up with the times. Cases dating back only a handful of years have shown exactly what can happen when the law isn’t prepared to tackle crimes that are committed with new technology, as in the multiple cases of “video voyeurs” who secretly videotaped victims in their homes, including times when the victims were nude or engaged in intimate relationships, and sometimes filming them for years. In several of those cases, the criminal got little to no jail time, just because the law as it was written didn’t have a way to address this violation.

New outrage in Georgia, for example, has been sparked by a higher court’s recent ruling that “upskirting” is not currently a crime. This practice of taking pictures or videos of women’s privates by secretly filming them from underneath has certainly been deemed reprehensible by the courts, but without laws in place to punish the practice, the state’s higher courts have already had to dismiss charges, even while urging lawmakers to rectify the issue.

Now, a new law in Minnesota is taking aim at the practice of “revenge porn,” or the posting and sharing of compromising images of individuals. Revenge porn has often started with a former boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse who seeks revenge against a partner by sharing pictures that individual gave them, typically nude. However, it can also occur if the person who shares the photos or videos is actually the one who took the images before sharing them.

Revenge porn has long been an area of concern linked to cyberbullying since the most common method of sharing the images is via social media. But with the limitations on the law’s ability to punish offenders who engage in cyberbullying, Minnesota lawmakers stepped up the penalties that specifically relate to revenge porn. The new law will allow for not only stiffer criminal penalties, but civil suit payouts as well.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Job seekers and members of the workforce have long been warned that their social media activity could come back to haunt them. After all, those risqué party pictures from spring break or that angry tweet that was fired off during an internet argument doesn’t make the sender seem very responsible.

There have already been numerous cases of individuals being terminated or denied employment for something they posted on Facebook, for example, something that presented them or their company in an unflattering light. But a new law was supposed to prevent employers from digging even deeper into “private” accounts in order to root out content that couldn’t be seen by the general public.

In a move that has privacy advocates lamenting the lost potential for personal security rights, Hawaii’s governor vetoed a bill that would have made it illegal for employers to demand the passwords to their employees’ social media accounts. The problem, which advocates say is much farther reaching than just employment but actually extends into other areas of everyday life, is actually quite a growing issue.

Without laws in place to protect individuals, employers can currently require employees and potential job applicants to log into their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other accounts in order to let the employer see what they’re up to in their spare time. Advocates have called this not only a violation of individual privacy, but also a threat to our First Amendment rights. And the matter isn’t limited to employers; there have been cases involving landlords who demand access to potential tenants’ accounts in order to see if their posts are undesirable before letting them sign a lease. Anything that lets a property manager decide that a person isn’t “right for the property” based on their social media posts touches on concerns surrounding real estate and property law.

As for Governor David Ige’s veto of the bill, which had already passed both branches of the state legislature unanimously, he cited concerns about how to implement such a bill. Without enough manpower in the state labor board to investigate complaints and then issue resolutions, the bill might be ineffective. Supporters of the bill, though, argued that laws like this one are long past due in a time when social media has ingrained itself so deeply in society. They had hoped that Hawaii’s bill would even serve as a model for other states’ privacy, employment, and real estate laws.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Florida has long held the dubious honor of being ones of the states with the highest amount of identity theft crime, for a variety of reasons.

The large demographic of senior citizens means potential victims who might not be up on the latest technology-based scams, and the high tourist population each year means a lot of people who are paying by credit card and may be less likely to notice fraudulent charges until it’s too late. The large numbers of resorts throughout the state even helps scammers, since employees at these tourist destinations may move around seasonally; therefore, having a lot of short-term addresses doesn’t raise as many suspicions when applying for a line of credit.

But lawmakers in Florida aren’t throwing in the towel on identity theft crimes. In fact, new legislation that was introduced last year and will go into effect in October is aimed at stopping one type of identity theft where almost all tourists and citizens alike have to go: the gas pump.

Skimming is nothing new. With a little bit of know-how and literally a few seconds of effort, thieves can tamper with a credit card payment system by inserting a thin film into the “swiper” part of the machine. This film “skims” the information off your credit card and sends it via a tiny cable to a small receiver. Self-serve gas pumps are prime locations for skimmers since the receiver and cable can be hidden inside the pump’s panel. From the outside, nothing appears out of the ordinary.

What is new, though, is Florida’s efforts to stop it. Along with requiring a visible tamper-evident tape at gas pumps to let consumers see if the panel has been opened, the law recategorizes this type of crime so that the sentencing can be harsher. It also allows for the unauthorized possession of credit card information to be a criminal offense; some other states have had to rewrite their laws to cover possessing stolen information, since actually using it was the only crime.

Just since 2015, officials in Florida have found more than 200 skimmers installed illegally in gas pumps throughout the state, with the highest number of skimmers located in the southern part of the state. In order to protect yourself from the threat of a tampered card reader, security experts recommend looking for the protective tape that shows the pump’s panel has been inspected and not tampered with, and when in doubt, pay inside the gas station instead of at the pump.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

New legislation signed into law in Illinois will help citizens of that state understand and recover from identity theft in a more timely way. House Bill 1260, signed by Governor Bruce Rauner in May, will update a lot of the currently understood types of identity theft prevention and lead to more immediate recovery. This is an important step towards keeping up with technological changes in this form of crime.

One of the first noteworthy features of the bill is the change to the types of data theft that will require consumers to be alerted. Instead of waiting for notification following something like a retail data breach, the law now adds medical data, health insurance information, and even biometric records like fingerprints or stored blood samples to the list of protected information. If any of those records are compromised, it’s now treated like any other data breach for notification purposes.

There is one other very important change, one that stands to shake up what consumers and industry experts have long known about data breaches and notification. For years, experts have cautioned consumers about avoiding scam emails that claim to come from their financial institution, credit card issuer, a utility company, or other account-based site; advocates have always said that any legitimate communication from these companies indicating a problem with your account will come in the mail.

Now, however, the law recognizes that waiting on a data breach notification letter—which is costly in terms of printing and mailing, especially in a breach that has millions of affected victims—slows down the response time. While consumers wait for the investigation and resulting notification, thieves are already doing irreparable damage with the victims’ stolen records. An emailed notification can be sent out the moment a breach is discovered, letting victims take swift action and begin the process of protecting themselves.

While this stands to greatly reduce the amount of time and the costs associated with notifying victims, it does mean that consumers and advocates alike will have to be extra-vigilant about detecting which emails are genuine, and which ones are phishing attempts aimed at stealing consumers’ personal identifiable information.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service fights hard against phony tax refunds and identity theft, but despite blocking billions of dollars in fraudulent returns, a few billion still manages to slip through.

Sadly, the IRS has had some really bad news about this year’s tax return season: thanks to a couple of large-scale hacking events involving over a million Social Security numbers, the expected fraudulent payout in 2016 is around $21 billion. The battle against this type of crime just got a new ally, though—the entire US House of Representatives.

After House Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) tried to file his tax return only to discover that someone else had beaten him to it and filed in his name, he introduced legislation to Congress that would require the IRS to set up a system to help identity theft victims sort through the tax return problems that go along with identity theft.

It would also help streamline the procedure for informing suspected identity theft victims once “red flagged” returns are uncovered, but an even more interesting point involves the Treasury Department. Under this law, the Treasury will be charged with investigating the possibility of letting confirmed identity theft victims halt any electronic filing done in their names.

Of course, this isn’t Rep. Renacci’s first foray into identity theft legislation. A previous effort of his became part of a new tax law in December of 2015, and it requires employers to provide their workers’ W2 forms to the IRS that same day that they distribute them to the employees. This instant documentation is supposed to end the delay—sometimes as long as two months—that employers previously had, giving identity thieves even more time to sneak in a false tax return on unsuspecting citizens.

One interesting take away from the bipartisan effort was the acknowledgement on the part of some lawmakers that identity theft is a growing crime with a far-reaching base of criminals. The “olden days” of identity theft saw lone criminals who engaged in dumpster diving as a means of rooting out their victims’ data. Now, law enforcement and policymakers understand that the high-tech world of cybercrime and data breaches means there are whole crime rings and even organized cartels from around the world who have a hand in stealing citizens’ identities. That clearly shows that more involved preventive steps must be taken in order to fight such a concerted, organized effort.

Rep. Renacci’s bill passed the House with a voice vote, and it will go on to the Senate for approval.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Identity theft victims in Kentucky can breathe a little easier, at least if one member of the state legislature has his way. Rep. Reggie Meeks has introduced a bill that will help victims of criminal identity theft to expunge their records and recover any financial losses from it.

Criminal identity theft is an intriguing form of the crime. When a thief steals someone’s identity, most victims think about securing their credit reports and monitoring their financial accounts, but they often overlook the possibility that the thief will use their identity for other nefarious purposes.

The scenario often plays out like this: the identity thief is stopped by police for something minor, such as a traffic violation or a misdemeanor crime. He provides the officers with your name and identifying information, meaning that “you” have just broken the law.

When the traffic ticket goes unpaid or “you” fail to appear in court for the crime, a bench warrant is issued for your arrest. Unlike television crime dramas, though, this type of warrant isn’t a major event; law enforcement officers have their hands full protecting the public from serious crimes, and they tend not to hunt someone down over an unpaid traffic ticket.

Often, no one follows through until the next time there’s a reason for your name to come up on radar. It could be that you are pulled over for a traffic stop of your own, or perhaps you’re applying for a new job and must pass a background check. That’s when this bench warrant—which could be years’ old by now—will crop up.

While that’s a typical situation, some victims’ experiences are far more serious and immediate. Rep. Meeks explained that the bill he introduced came about after learning of an innocent man who lost his job after a felony car theft warrant was issued, all because someone had used his identity when he was arrested.

Should this legislation pass, victims of identity theft in Kentucky will have a far more streamlined process for removing faulty charges from their records and clearing their names. If they’ve incurred any monetary losses as a result of criminal identity theft—like having their car insurance rates go up after someone got a speeding ticket in their name—then they will be eligible for refunds of those amounts once their records are expunged.

There’s no reason to wait for new legislation in order to protect yourself, however. If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, it’s important that you file a police report as soon as you discover the crime. That way, the process of clearing your name of any fraudulent criminal charges can be easier.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

One New York councilman is fed up with the way scammers target his elderly constituents, and he’s working on legislation that will do something about it. Councilman Chaim Deutsch has introduced a bill that would require the city’s Office of Consumer Affairs to produce public materials and conduct outreach to both senior citizens and those who care for them.

This effort would increase awareness of telemarketing scams, internet scams, and more. Why would a New York councilman spearhead such a highly specific bill? Perhaps it’s because of a very interesting statistic, culled from a report on the elderly. According to an article by Rafael Hoffman about Deutsch’s bill for Hamodia.com, “In his remarks in the council chambers, where the bill was introduced last week, Deutsch noted a study conducted by the National Council on Aging, which stated that New York City’s ‘over-60’ population makes double the amount of purchases by phone than the national average, making them especially vulnerable to such scams.”

It’s not just the elderly who are affected by the scams that Deutsch is trying to prevent, although the elderly are unfairly targeted. One of the hardest-hitting scams right now masquerades as the IRS, as criminals know the public carries an innate fear of having done something wrong with their taxes. Scammers literally from around the world are making the rounds, calling citizens and claiming everything from unpaid taxes to the need to update their profiles by handing over all of their personal data. Some scams have even threatened the victim with criminal prosecution if they don’t make a payment over the phone immediately.

Deutsch wants to put a stop to that. But it’s not just tax scams he’s after; there is another specific scam that focuses on the elderly, playing off one of their worst nightmares. Called the “grandparent scam” for a reason, this particularly heinous fraud happens when a caller states that he is holding the grandchild for ransom, and failure to pay up will result in his death. As many senior citizens don’t use technology like instant messaging or texting, and therefore have no immediate way to contact the loved one for verification, far too many seniors fall for it.

While a lot of people have tried to combat these horrible crimes, Deutsch is taking it a step further by also recognizing that scam victims come in many varieties, especially in their ethnicities. That’s why his bill would require the promotional materials to be distributed in multiple languages. He’s also stated that it’s not enough to create these materials, but that they need to be widely spread in senior centers and “natural” retirement communities, or neighborhoods that happen to have high volumes of elderly residents.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Child identity theft has been around for years, but from its earliest cases, it tended to involve a relative or friend of the family who’d fraudulently “borrowed” a child’s blank slate. Sadly, in many of the instances, the thief had every good intention of paying back the money he’d taken out in the child’s name, only to find that the same behaviors that caused his money troubles in the first place prevented him from resolving it later.

Even more upsetting was the all-too-common response: family members would often pressure the child’s immediate family to “cover up” the crime and take on that debt themselves in order to prevent criminal charges from being brought against the perpetrator. Now, child identity theft has taken on a whole new fearsome position as one of the fastest growing forms of the crime. And it’s no longer limited to just people close to the victim.

Hackers and organized identity thieves know the value of an unblemished credit report, and they go to great lengths to gather up as many children’s identities as possible. Large-scale data breaches of children’s information have taken place through schools, medical offices, even extracurricular activities, all places where parents have typically been required to submit a lot of personal information on their kids.

But one state is working to protect children’s identities before serious problems arise. Kentucky’s House Majority Caucus Chair Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, has initiated a bill that will help put some power of protection in parents’ hands, giving them the ability to place alerts and freezes on their minor children’s Social Security numbers, and therefore their credit reports. This bill will also extend to the ability to protect individuals who are in some way incapacitated, regardless of their age.

While only twenty-two states currently have these protections in place, in Kentucky’s bill and in most of those states that have existing legislation there has to already be a reason for concern. That means the alert or freeze isn’t enacted unless there has already been an instance of fraud against the child’s Social Security number. By then, it may very well be too late; someone already has the data and is using it to commit fraud. Since there are vendors who overlook the freeze on a credit report when a customer fills out an application for a new line of credit, parents must still be vigilant about monitoring their children’s identities for any signs of something out of the ordinary.

Signs that someone is already using your child’s identity can include bills or collections notices coming in your child’s name, medical bills or statements for treatments your child didn’t receive, or statements of employment or government benefits. You also have cause for alarm if your child is ever turned down for benefits, for a job, or for enlistment in the military due to bad credit.

 

There are a lot of different types of identity theft: financial, criminal, government, and child, just to name a few. But of all the various types of identity theft, there’s possibly no more dangerous kind than medical identity theft.

Medical ID theft occurs when someone uses your information to receive medical treatment, prescription drugs, or insurance coverage, but the end result is that their medical history can become permanently connected to yours. Even scarier, under HIPAA privacy laws, even if a case of medical identity theft occurs you’re not entitled to the information of the person who stole your identity; his medical information is as private as yours, and you cannot have access to it.

How can these consequences be deadly? If your medical records contain information on a different person, you could be treated for a life-threatening condition that you don’t have. You could be denied life-saving emergency treatment if it conflicts with conditions that are listed in “your” records. Prescription drugs can be administered to you even though you don’t actually need them, and even if you could actually be harmed by taking them since they’re for a condition you don’t have.

Now, members of Congress are asking for more accountability and more support for victims. The Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, under the leadership of bipartisan members Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), are requesting answers on what’s being done to help victims of this very serious form of identity theft. They’re asking how cases of medical identity theft are being tracked for statistical purposes, as well as how the current federal laws protect citizens from this crime.

This isn’t the first time Congress has demanded answers when it comes to citizens’ health privacy and the security of their information. Earlier this year, Alexander and Murray launched an initiative aimed at securing consumers’ personal data when it’s stored by healthcare agencies. This is especially important in the wake of major healthcare data breaches such as the ones experienced in recent years.

Fortunately, while the government addresses this very specific national concern, there are some steps citizens can take to prevent the fraudulent use of their data for medical reasons. First, safeguarding your Social Security number is vitally important, and refusing to let anyone use it as an identification number is key. If you’re asked for it at a doctor’s office or hospital, you’re not required to turn it over. Next, making sure you guard your health insurance information is important to protecting your overall medical records; think of your health insurance card like an unlimited ATM card with the PIN number printed on the back. Finally, look over all bills, insurance statements, and communications from a medical provider to make sure that you actually received the treatment listed in the documents. Don’t discard them without verifying the dates of service, and call the medical provider and your insurance company if there’s anything out of place.

Not many people count paying their taxes as one of their favorite activities. The fact of the matter is citizens have a legitimate reason to complain about taxes and the IRS given the statistic that the government issues approximately $4 billion a year in fraudulent refunds to identity thieves.

Fortunately, new legislation is pending that will work to not only cut down on the fraud, but to keep citizens’ personal data safe from hackers and data breaches as well. What originally began the Congressional process as the Tax Refund Theft Prevention Act of 2014, introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) last year, the legislation will now move on to the markup stage where committee members can introduce new provisions, debate the bill’s merits, and engage in further discussion.

“Tax refund fraud is a one-two punch for taxpaying individuals,” Hatch said. “Millions of taxpayers’ identities are compromised, and all taxpayers have their tax dollars wasted.  Our bill aims to address such fraud by enhancing the IRS’s capabilities in detecting fraud and by giving victims the assistance and safeguards they need to repair the damage done by tax theft criminals.  In order to further deter this crime, we make tax refund fraud a specific category of a felony offense and enhance security features for filers.  Hard-working American families deserve a government that protects both their tax dollars and their sensitive taxpayer information.”

As Senator Hatch originally stated when the bill was introduced last year, tax refund fraud is especially problematic for citizens. Not only do they not receive their legitimate refunds in a timely way, their identities have been compromised in the process of the fraud. That means the same thief who filed a fraudulent return in their names can then go on to commit countless other related crimes like benefits fraud, medical identity theft, and the opening of new lines of credit in the victim’s name. Of course, this issue works in reverse as well; someone who’s identity has been stolen and used for other purposes can find himself becoming the victim of tax refund fraud the next time tax season rolls around.

Unfortunately, this type of identity theft is so easy to commit that criminals of all types and levels—from petty street thugs to organized crime bosses—are turning to tax refund fraud, often to bankroll other criminal activities. Even notorious street gangs whose criminal activities have included drug dealing, prostitution, black market gun sales, and gun-related violence have turned to their computers to commit tax-related identity theft crimes, largely due to the massive potential payout with minimal physical risk. One California gang, Long Beach’s Insane Crips, netted over $3.3 million dollars of an attempted $11 million dollars in tax fraud before a sting operation brought them down.

The markup process of Senators Hatch and Wyden’s bill will begin on Wednesday, September 16th. Many of the original provisions are expected to remain in place, while new provisions may be added to ensure better citizen protection and fraud reduction.