Tennessee’s safety department is creating a new unit to investigate identity theft crimes that local law enforcement agencies don’t have the time and resources to effectively investigate. The 14-person unit will include personnel from the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security.

The unit will also work with U.S. Secret Service in Memphis and Nashville as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The idea for the new unit came about Tennesseeafter a top to bottom review of state operations and needs. It was apparent to officials that relief available to victims of identity theft and financial fraud in the state was not at the level it needed to be.

The ITRC applauds the creation of units such as this one. As Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security Bill Gibbons aptly put, “Very few police departments have investigators that have the expertise to investigate these types of crimes. When you go to local law enforcement agencies across the state, they will pretty much tell you that identity crime is one of the toughest types of crimes for them to investigate.”

Gibbons went on to explain that Tennessee law gives the Tennessee Highway Patrol authority to investigate identity theft, though their primary duties are primarily relegated to traffic enforcement. Often the most difficult part of solving these crimes is the fact that they transcend traditional jurisdictional boundaries. In many cases these crimes originate out of state or even sometimes overseas, which is why they are partnering with federal agencies that have wider areas of jurisdiction.

According to Gibbons, they won’t be handling all identity theft cases in the state. Instead, they plan to look at each case individually for certain factors such financial loss, connections to homeland security issues and violation of a state felony theft law, to decide whether to take the case.

The department has also posted a resource kit online for identity theft victims. It can be found at www.tn.gov/safety .

“Tennessee’s New Identity Theft Unit” was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to ITRC_Blog.

State of Tennessee – Federal and State Resources

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.

For more information visit our website at www.azag.gov , or contact us at 1-602-542-2123, 1-602-542-2145 or 1-800-352-8431.

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.

Earlier this month members of the ITRC team, in an effort to promote greater education and unity of effort in the fight against identity theft, made a visit to Vancouver, BC, where Canada’s newest non-profit organization, CITSC (Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre) is nearly ready to hard launch their victim assistance center. Much like the ITRC here in the States, CITSC is an organization whose primary objective is to provide no-cost assistance to victims of identity theft and financial fraud. The two organizations have been closely collaborating for several months in order to share intelligence and experience, to make CITSC’s transition to a fully functioning national non-profit go more smoothly. While in Vancouver, ITRC representatives engaged with CITSC to complete live training exercises with actual victims.

 

The ITSC received a charter from the Canadian Department of Justice to develop a program to educate and assist Canadian victims of identity theft and financial fraud. Much like the United States, Canada’s identity theft is a growing problem, quickly making its way into the public consciousness. Canadian law differs in several key areas from US law, so it is important to have an organization that is versed in Canadian law so it can provide the most effective assistance to Canadian victims and consumers. While this sounds simple, the process of getting a national non-profit organization up and running smoothly is actually a very challenging undertaking. CITSC reached out to ITRC not only to train advisors, but to assist in establishing operations and security protocols that are a necessary part of running the day-in, day-out business of an organization that still has all the same challenges a normal small business does. This allowed CITSC to not have to “reinvent the wheel,” as CITSC President Kevin Scott put it.

Providing CITSC with the opportunity to put more of their initial focus on discovering and understanding the differences in Canadian law and how that would affect the advice given to victims and consumers was of paramount importance to the ITRC. As the ITRC Director of Operations Rex Davis put it, “once they go live with a hard launch we know their jobs will get fast and furious, so we just wanted to do all that we could to give them the best leg up possible out of the gate.” The shared mutual interest from both organizations has led to close collaboration over the past year and has covered every issue or challenge that might be faced with forming this kind of organization. As their expected hard launch date is tentatively set for June, this trip’s objective was to provide sort of a final systems check, to ensure the victim advisors who would be handling calls are trained and ready to go.

According to ITRC Victim Advisor Gabby Ayala, “the objective of this visit was to give the folks who will be first responders to Canadian victims some live experience with an actual victim pool prior to the hard launch of their call center. Overall we thought the experience was incredibly beneficial for both parties. It gave us a chance to show them what they should expect and to allow them to have some actual experience with victims under their belt prior to going live. I think it was encouraging for us as well to see how far they’ve come in such a short period of time. The dedication they show to the victims and the passion they have for the subject matter is readily apparent, and I think that was really a welcome sight for us as veteran advisors. It was gratifying to know that Canadian victims will be in good hands.”

For questions or more information about the Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre, visit their website at http://idtheftsupportcentre.org/ or call them toll free at 1(866) 436-5461.

“ITRC Goes to Canada, Ey?” was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to ITRC Blog.

Victims of Identity theft are confronted with a problem that is unique among victims of crime in the US. Unlike more traditional crimes, a victim of identity theft is forced to prove his or her innocence; not to one group or entity but to many. With identity theft, it will be assumed the victim is really the perpetrator until proven otherwise. As one tries to sort through the damage and clear their name, it is imperative that a victim knows the rights they have under the law, and where to go for legal resources and assistance in their efforts to get past this problem.

 

In the US, most consumer protection for financially related identity theft and fraud will fall under one of three major pieces of federal legislation. These are the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act), FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act), and FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act). It is imperative that a victim of financial identity theft familiarize themselves with all three of these laws, in order to have a better understanding of just what their rights and protections as consumers and as potential victims are.

For financial or criminal identity theft it is also important to review the state laws and statutes directly related to identity theft, both in the state of the victim’s residence and the state where any portion of the theft or fraudulent use of the information occurred. A good place to start for any victim at the state level is to contact the state’s attorney general’s office, or review the state AG’s website. This will give the victim a far more thorough understanding of what their legal rights are, and the means of mitigation provided to victims in that particular state. In addition, for victims who may need to seek an attorney for any necessary litigation that may result from the theft, but who lack the necessary means to hire their own attorney; contacting the state’s associated Legal Aid Society will often provide insight into where pro-bono or discounted legal services may be found.
In many cases simple knowledge and understanding of the laws already in place will be sufficient for a victim of identity theft or financial fraud to successfully mitigate their case without the assistance of an attorney.

However if the determination is made that the only way to mitigate the fraud is to go to court, having an attorney is a really good idea. In that eventuality, the victim should ensure that whoever they enlist to be their legal counsel, has a clear understanding of identity theft related crimes, and understands that the victim’s legal defense rests solely on the fact that they are a victim of financial crime. Traditional legal education often doesn’t specifically address this niche area of the law, and any attorney who lacks at least a basic understanding of identity theft issues can often make things worse for their clients, despite the best intentions. A victim who has taken the time and effort to educate themselves will be able to determine who will be a good fit in any pre-hire legal consultation.

Above all, a victim needs to become their own legal advocate. Do a little research and come to an understanding of what protections are provided them under the law. A thoroughly educated victim is a hard one to take advantage of.

“What Are My Rights?” was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to ITRC Blog

So you’ve discovered that you’re a victim of identity theft, and you need to file a criminal complaint with law enforcement. Having a clear understanding of what your expectations should be in dealing with law enforcement, and what their role is and should be in mitigating the damage to your identity will give you the best chance of successfully cleaning up your good name.

The first thing a victim of identity theft should understand is that law enforcement probably won’t be able to catch your identity thief. It’s not that they’re not law enforcementcompetent, or that they don’t care. As any regular reader of ITRC blogs is likely already aware, the problem is that identity theft is a very 21st century crime and our jurisdictional system was designed in the late 19th – early 20th century to effectively police crimes that existed at that time. Identity theft as we think of it today did not truly become a major issue until the last few years of the 20th century.

Many cases of identity theft transcend traditional jurisdictional boundaries. A police officer in Arizona may or may not have the time and resources, let alone the authority, to help catch an identity thief in Florida. While there

are some exceptions to this general trend (as when the victim and the thief live in the same area, or the thief is known to the victim), generally the victim’s focus should be on cleaning up the damage and preventing future incidence of fraud, and not on catching the bad guy. Deliver what information you have to the police when you file your report, and let them determine the likelihood of bringing the thief to justice.

The good news is you don’t need to catch the thief to mitigate the damage from past identity theft, and protect your identity from future harm. The principle value of contacting the police for identity theft is simply to get the incident report. The existence of a police report gives your status as victim credibility. In order to mitigate the damage done from identity theft you may need to contact creditors, collection agencies, government offices, or anyone else who may have been affected by the illegal use of your personally identifying information.

The ability to provide a complaint made to law enforcement shows that you’re not just someone trying to cleverly skate on paying a bill. Having a police report is also a critical component to invoking your protections under federal laws such as FACTA, FCRA, and FDCPA. Understanding that in most cases of identity theft the report itself is a greater asset in your fight to restore your good name than seeing the criminal brought to justice is paramount when you seek the assistance of law enforcement.

“Helping Law Enforcement Help You” was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to the original article.

A majority of identity theft cases never make it to court. If they do, you’ll want to arrive armed with the knowledge of what your rights are and what tools the law allows you to use to rectify your identity theft issue. Keep in mind, as you read this information, that each case is unique. What one victim experiences may not be your experience, even within the same jurisdiction and court. This general information is not meant to take the place of legal advice from an attorney, or advice from a DA victim assistance counselor. However, it might help you understand the complexities of the judicial process.

Throughout the process of clearing your name, you have most likely filled out a number of affidavits. On these forms is some information you might not want publicly known. This could be your new driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, former addresses or names used, new address, birth date and account numbers.

Many victims do not know that you may request that identifying information be redacted (blackened out) from documents being put into court records or given to the defense attorney during discovery. Unfortunately, we have heard of cases where the perpetrator has gotten these documents and now has even more information than he/she originally had. Talk with the detective and DA on your case about your options. These will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Throughout the court process, take detailed notes. Note names of people who testify, the name of the judge, DA, court reporter and even the probation officer. Write down who said what, judicial rulings, anything the defendant says. Jot down questions about things you don’t understand or items you feel were ignored. You can ask the DA or victim assistance counselor about those later.

There are some very basic expectations you should understand for each step in the trial. At the arraignment, you probably will not be asked to speak, and may not be involved. Sometime after the arraignment, someone from the DA’s office may contact you to let you know about the date of the trial. Depending on your city or county, you should expect that this DA will not be the DA who later will try the case. Frequently, victim contact is just an administrative function, and the DA’s rotate this duty. If you become aware that your perpetrator has been arrested, and you have not been contacted by the DA, you should call the DA’s office and ask for the calendar coordinator. You may need to be persistent.

If you are involved in the arraignment, you will be a spectator. Typically, the defendant will go up to the front of the room along with his/her attorney. The court will read the charges and ask how they plead. Expect to hear the words, “Not guilty.” Do not react to this; this is just a legal process. The judge will quickly review the DA’s charges. Then the judge will set a preliminary trial date, a readiness hearing date and decide bail.

Following the arraignment, the formal trial will begin next. Keep in mind; this is the people’s case, represented by the prosecutor, not yours. The DA may not present the information you wish. He/she may not focus on points you think are important and may even settle for a plea bargain without consulting you.
Many factors figure into the way a prosecutor presents a case. The prosecutor must consider the type of penalty asked for, and how many counts (acts of criminal behavior) charged in the case. For example, sometimes your case is just one of several cases that are being charged against an alleged imposter. The DA will focus on the crimes that have the best chance of successful prosecution, or that hold the highest resulting penalty. Those crimes may not be yours. Sometimes a DA has a wealth of criminal activities to prosecute, but going after each incidence won’t help improve his/her case. The judge might see such actions as persecution, or a waste of time. Be aware that the penalty might not change between 31 counts and 15 counts in a specific case.

Again, take notes. Keep your cool and act in a professional manner. You may not even need to say anything until the imposter is found guilty and the court moves into the sentencing phase. If you are called to testify, follow the directions given to you by the DA’s office prior to trial.

If the defendant is found guilty, the judge will set a date for sentencing. If, however, a plea bargain has been struck, the case will move directly to sentencing. You will be notified of the date of this phase and you should talk with the DA prior to this date. You should also talk with the Probation Officer assigned to the case.

You have the right to submit a written Victim Impact Statement. If you want, you can also make a statement in court. The judge must read anything you submit to the court, prior to sentencing. Please do yourself a favor: Prepare a statement, keep it concise, accurate, clear, and complete. This is the best way to have your message heard clearly by the court. You may attach a financial statement detailing your costs and expected costs; include copies of any receipts that verify expenses.

If the imposter is found guilty, the judge will pass sentence. That sentence may include probation with review hearings. The Probation Department will give a report to the judge regarding probation progress (or lack thereof), and law enforcement is also permitted to search the convicted felon’s residence, car, person and belongings for any probation violations. Before a Review Hearing, victims who suspect that the felon is breaking probation or the law should notify either the police detective that was on the case or the assigned probation officer. Review Hearings give victims another chance to address the court, especially if probation violations affect them.

“The Court Experience for Identity Theft Victims” was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to the ITRC Blog.

Last month, State Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the creation of a new law enforcement unit to address the growing problems associated with identity theft and cybercrime. According to the F.T.C., California has the most identity theft complaints of any state (over a million complaints annually), and the third highest number per-capita. Known as the California e-Crime Unit, this new law enforcement group will include a group of 20 investigators and prosecutors whose sole responsibility will be to prosecute cybercrime.

 

While Florida, Texas, and Louisiana already have similar units in place, California’s promises to be the largest such unit yet created, with a broader mandate. Criminal activity such as identity theft, internet scamming, and hacking will be the units’ primary focus. The problem with catching cybercriminals is not the ability to track their activity, or to find sufficient evidence of their crimes. So then why is it decidedly more difficult to actually bring a cybercriminal or identity thief to justice? The primary reason is the relatively new unique challenges cybercrime presents.

Primary amongst these is the fact that a significant amount of cybercrime transcends traditional jurisdictional boundaries. Often it is beyond the scope of an individual local police force or district attorney to effectively build a case against and prosecute criminals who may commit their crimes in multiple counties, states, or even countries. Additionally such complication makes it confusing for the consumer to know just how to most effectively get help for their identity theft issues. These are exactly the issues Harris and this new task force are hoping to address. By developing a unit completely focused on cybercrime, with the mobility to help individual local and county jurisdictions seamlessly could potentially be a game changer in the battle on identity theft and cyber crime that has to this point, been a losing one. This is one of the strongest and most encouraging indicators yet that the severity of this problem is finally starting to hit home in the minds of legislators and law enforcement officials.

“Identity Theft and Cyber Crime Blues: California’s New eCrime Unit Gets Tough on Cyber Criminals” was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center.