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Identity crime focus of March 4 workshop

By Staff | Feb 3, 2015

The sad truth is that we’re all potential victims. It’s how you fight back that matters.

A Sanibel investigator on March 4 will lay out strategies for protecting islanders from identity theft, other crimes relating to the pilfering of personal information. David Watts’s workshop at the Sanibel library starts at 2 p.m. Identity theft is of particular importance in Sanibel and Captiva, as a large percent of victims have a higher net worth, statistics suggest.

The internet, social media and the internet are technologies “that are gifts in one hand, and will stab you in the back on the other,” said Watts, a former New Jersey patrolman turned private investigator. He lives seasonally in Captiva. He plans other workshops in Fort Myers.

Identity theft has surged like an unchecked plague in recent years. Crime survey figures tracked by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for example, pegged the cost of identity theft at $25 billion in 2012. Burglary, car theft and property theft accounted for about half that number. Those are direct losses, and experts agree the figure has likely doubled in three years. Sanibel and Captiva were also targeted in 2014 by so-called granny scams, an avenue of identity theft. Callers want victims to send cash to bail a family member out of trouble or to pay medical bills. A Sanibel grandmother told island police that the callers even put a “doctor” on the phone to verify a grandson was injured and needed a medical deductible paid. The information was likely filtered from the internet. The islander, smelling trouble, ended the conversation, finding out quickly her grandson was at home.

The indirect nightmare of electronic plundering, of course, is incalculable, working to retrieve lost funds, shredded credit, the issues that come with good names turned to mush, Watts said.

While there’s little islanders can do to stop identity theft, there are warning signs, “behavioral” measures to limit data collection, said Watts, who will share strategies on March 4.

One easy tip he shares protects children. Newborns are issued a social security number, for instance, which criminals easily obtain. They can use the numbers to create driver licenses, credit cards, to apply for mortgages, any number of illegal enterprises, all for years before the child needs use of a social security number, he said.

Parents should issue a freeze or fraud alert of their child’s social security number with the three credit agencies, lifted when the child comes of age, he said.

“I don’t mean to scare anyone,” Watts said, “just to bring them out of the doldrums, to be aware this is serious and can happen any time.”