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ID Thieves Embrace New High-tech Tools as Consumers Fall Further Behind in Fight to Protect Their Identities

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AARP News

For Immediate Release: November 19, 2014
Contact:  Jason Erskine / 206-517-9345

New report reveals Washingtonians are stuck in analog world as ID thieves go digital

Washington - A new state survey shows that consumers continue to put themselves at risk of identity theft by ignoring simple protection tips like shredding personal documents, checking credit reports and locking mailboxes.  But the report, along with recent eye-opening interviews with convicted ID thieves, reveal Washingtonians are falling further behind in the fight to protect their identities as scam artists go digital.

The report, “Identity Theft: Who’s at Risk?” shows Washington consumers continue to ignore time-tested consumer protection tips that are known to help protect personal information from identity thieves.  For example, more than one-third (34%) of Washingtonians receive their mail in an unlocked mailbox or mail slot at home. Nearly one in five (19%) say they never shred any of their documents that contain personal information.  And during the past six months, nearly six in ten (57%) respondents left at least one personal item in their car that could lead to identity theft, such as a purse, wallet, laptop or personal checkbook.

But according to consumer protection experts, the more troubling findings of AARP’s survey show Washingtonians are even less prepared for new high-tech attacks.  For instance, half of Washingtonians (50%) have not set up online access to all of their bank accounts, and 49% report that they have not set up online access to all of their credit cards. Less than half (49%) have changed the password to their online banking accounts in the past 6 months.

The danger of leaving these online doors open to ID thieves was amplified during recent AARP interviews with a convicted ID Thief in Seattle.  Alice Lipski (not her real name) is the subject of a new article, “She Stole my Life” in the October/November issue of AARP the Magazine. The article details how Alice and her crew of three stole nearly one-million dollars from consumers in the Seattle area.  Their approach included a mix of old approaches like sifting through stolen mail, with high-tech advances that allowed them to digitally erase victim’s lives while assuming their good names and credit.  “Nowadays it’s all about technology, and if you know what you’re doing with it, it’s easy for me to take over your life,” says Alice.

“It’s chilling to hear how Alice so nonchalantly and easily ripped apart the credit and lives of her victims,” says AARP State Director Doug Shadel. “With just a few simple pieces of information like a credit card number and password, she was able to digitally erase and assume their lives without her victims even realizing it. Her story and those of con-artists like her should be a wake-up call for consumers,” he said.

AARP’s survey showed that over one-quarter (26%) of Washingtonians do not use a passcode on their smart-phone. “With all the personal information and online connections we store on our phones these days, leaving them unprotected is like carrying around a ticking time bomb ready to explode,” says Shadel. Other survey results included:

•    In the past 12 months, nearly one-third (30%) of Washingtonians report being notified by a business or government agency that their personal information may have been compromised or that they may have been a victim of ID theft because of hackers or some other security breach.
•    Only two-in-ten (19%) Washingtonians have ordered a free copy of their credit report through annualcreditreport.com during the past 12 months, and even fewer (10%) have set up online accounts with all three credit bureaus to regularly monitor their credit.

In an effort to arm all Americans with the tools and resources they need to spot and avoid scams like identity theft, AARP and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office launched the Fraud Watch Network.  A free resource for people of all ages, the Fraud Watch Network offers real-time alerts about the latest scams in your state, a guide to outsmarting con artists, help for those who have been victimized, and easy tips for consumers’ daily lives from identity theft prevention experts.  The public can sign up free of charge at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or by calling the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Call Center at 1-800-646-2283.

“Every three seconds there’s a new victim of identity theft, and most of them don’t even know it,” says Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “Be vigilant about protecting your personal information. You are your own best shield against identity theft.”

A central tactic of AARP’s new Fraud Watch Network is to learn from the con-artists themselves. “For too long we’ve been playing catch up with the bad guys,” says Shadel. “As our survey shows, today’s consumer protection tips are rarely enough to spot and stop tomorrow’s attack. We’re going straight to the source to learn how scammers operate, and sharing that information with consumers who want to keep a step ahead,” he said.

The AARP 2014 Washington ID Theft Prevention Survey was conducted by Precision Opinion as a telephone survey among residents age 18 and older in Washington State from September 5 – September 21, 2014.  The survey has a margin of error on +/- 3.0 percent.

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Also see AARP's Top Ten ID Theft Protection Tips

 

 

 

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