ID theft ranks low in state but still happening

Although a federal report ranks Hawaii “very low” among states for cases of identity theft, the number of such complaints increased last year, and it remains the top consumer complaint nationwide, said an official with an identity theft protection company.

Hawaii’s ranking of 48th in the nation is “very low, but that doesn’t mean it’s a crime that’s not happening,” said Paige Hanson, manager of educational programs with LifeLock.

“Even though identity theft may not have happened to you, it’s very important to educate yourself and be prepared,” said Hanson, who was among speakers at identity theft summits presented by the company and FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association in Hawaii this month. “Your information is out there. It’s just a matter of time.”

The state’s ranking was based on the 658 complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission during the one-year period that ended in February. The number was up by nearly 13 percent from the 583 complaints during the same period the previous year.

On Maui, about 40 law enforcement officers attended the summit hosted by the state Department of the Attorney General on Oct. 4 at the Wailuku Police Station.

According to the federal reports, credit card fraud was the biggest issue for 20 percent of people reporting identity theft in the state.

In some cases, Hanson said, thieves use a skimmer to make a duplicate copy of someone’s credit card. “You could actually have your card in your wallet, but people are making transactions anywhere in the world,” she said.

She said that the summit included a demonstration of how credit cards can be duplicated. “It literally takes seconds to duplicate a card,” she said. “It’s pretty scary.”

Another big issue was government benefits and documents fraud, which is usually related to tax fraud, which was reported by 24 percent of people from Hawaii who filed complaints, Hanson said.

She said that when someone’s information has been stolen and a false tax return is filed in his or her name, it often takes at least 18 months to correct the fraud and for the person to receive his or her refund. “We still have open cases from 2010,” Hanson said.

Identity theft trends include cybercrime, which can occur when people make payments online.

By using Wi-Fi networks at hotels, coffee shops or restaurants, “it leaves you vulnerable,” Hanson said.

At such locations, she said that a person’s password can be compromised. “Everyone’s typing on an open network. They don’t realize the person next to them can see exactly what they’re typing,” Hanson said.

“Those locations are best for checking the news or the weather, not going anywhere that requires a password,” she said. “At work, at home – those are secure networks to me.”

By reporting identity theft crimes to law enforcement, victims can qualify for some services, such as a free credit freeze to prevent others from using victims’ names to start a new line of credit, Hanson said.

She said that identity theft has been the No.1 consumer-reported complaint for 13 years in a row. “Each year that number goes up, almost by a million,” she said. “It’s significant.”