Tips on how to avoid online thieves

by Emily Landgraf

Using his name and a public Internet search engine, Robert Lackie, an assistant professor and librarian at Rider, was able to find personal information about himself, including the ages of his wife and child and a picture of his home and neighborhood.
Lackie’s presentation was part of a seminar where a panel of experts discussed identity theft and how people can protect themselves.

“Once information’s out there [on the Internet], it’s out there,” Lackie said.

He spoke about how people of all ages should protect themselves on the Internet by limiting the amount of information they give out on personal Web sites.

Other experts on the panel from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, Bank of America and Temple University had useful information to share with the audience.
According to a handout available at the seminar, “Identity theft occurs when someone’s personal information is stolen for the purpose of impersonating that person.”

Identity thieves are looking for certain key information, according to James Scott, the assistant prosecutor for the Economic Crime Unit in Mercer County. This information includes a person’s name, birthday, birthplace, Social Security number, driver’s license number and his or her mother’s maiden name, said Scott.

The best way to protect yourself is to be vigilant, according to all members of the panel. They encouraged those present to review bank and credit statements monthly in order to prevent serious problems. They also urged the audience never to give out their information over the phone or via e-mail unless they were contacting the institution.

Identify thieves “are very, very good at getting that information and turning it into currency and into goods in a matter of days,” Scott said.

Kevin Hill, vice president of Bank of America, encouraged skepticism when anyone asks for personal information, such as a Social Security number.

Scott also agreed with this statement.

“Nine out of 10 times someone asks for your Social Security number, they will not be able to give you a legitimate answer as to why they need it,” he said.
Hill also urged caution when using ATM machines and debit cards.

“If something doesn’t look right, go with your first instinct: Don’t use that machine,” he said.

James Manahan, a lawyer and graduate of Rider, has had firsthand experience in civil suits concerning identity theft.

“If you’re not looking at your financial data monthly, you’re asking for trouble,” he said.

Manahan stressed the importance of securing financial documents.

“A lot of the perpetrators [of identity theft] are not strangers,” he said.

Another expert present was Laurinda Harman, associate professor and chairperson of the Department of Health Information Management at Temple University. Harman explained medical identity theft, the latest information crime.

It is incredibly difficult to find the perpetrators of this crime, Harman said.

“Your patient safety is at risk,” she said. “I want you, as a patient, to always get a copy of your medical records.”

According to Harman, this will allow individuals to protect themselves better from this type of identity theft.

All of the experts present agreed that the best way to protect personal information is to guard it closely.

“The single best person to protect your information is yourself,” Hill said.

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