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Hundreds Attend Identity Theft Forum in Germantown

More than 275 people attended an Identity Theft Forum hosted by Congressman John K. Delaney (MD-6) in Germantown at the BlackRock Center for the Arts on Thursday evening, July 16. The event included one-on-one advice from federal and state officials and a panel discussion featuring experts.

Sergeant Gary Mounts, Maryland State Police Assistant Commander of Computer Crimes Unit said, erring on the side of caution and spreading awareness are powerful tools for reducing one’s vulnerability to identity theft.

The event came on the heels of recent announcements from the Office of Personnel Management that 21.5 million Americans had their Social Security Numbers exposed to unauthorized parties. The two-hour forum featured remarks from State Attorney General Brian Frosh, representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, OPM, the Maryland State Police, US Postal Inspection Services, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

“Identity theft is a growing problem that can often have serious consequences,” wrote Congressman Delaney in a public statement, “the problem is especially acute in Maryland right now, where hundreds of thousands have likely been exposed in recent breaches at OPM. What happened at OPM is unacceptable and we need to take immediate action at all levels of government personal data is secure and that those impacted are protected.”

FTC attorney Lisa Schifferle noted that Maryland is the sixth highest state for reports of identity theft. Such crimes have ultimately led to debit card abuse and tax collection fraud. Schifferle further cautioned participants against being phished and noted that medical identity theft will likely be a critical issue in the near future. Additionally, any victims of identity theft or exposure may file complaints with the FTC.

“Scammers are very good at tricking you or scaring you,” said Jeffrey Karberg, a representative from the Maryland State Attorney General’s Office, “half of the speakers on this panel have been victims of identity theft.” Karberg further noted that under the Maryland Personal Information Protection Act, state registered businesses are required to inform consumers or clients of privacy breaches and notify the General Attorney’s office for verification. Privacy breaches include disclosure of first and last name, contact information, Financial Account Number among others.

Though less than three percent of identity thefts involve mail misuse, these crimes often involve international perpetrators and victimize diverse populations, said United States Postal Service inspector Charles Wickersham. Wickersham added that a recent string of incidents informally known as the ‘Jamaican scam’ specifically targeted senior citizens, a demographic typically more isolated and less technologically aware. Unbeknownst to their victims, perpetrators calling from the 876 area code disguised as tax collectors or customs officials have already extorted millions difficult to trace and challenging to recover.

“Scammers target older Americans because those who are 65 years or older tend to have more savings,” Wickersham said, “the savings added up together for all senior citizens in this country is about 1.4 trillion dollars, and scammers are good at figuring out what you need.”

Many local residents voiced their concerns with the escalation of privacy compromises.

“I am one of the 21 million or so Americans who filled out the ‘security clearance form.’ In that process, I had to reveal a handful of information about my wife and my children their spouse. Now, I don’t know how the information is disseminated,” said Montgomery County resident Colin Alter.

Others inquired about existing measures for tax return protection and government monitoring of suspicious activity. James Jackson, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, noted that reports from the public are often crucial to discovering unusual behavior.

Delaney is a cosponsor of legislation to provide lifetime identity protection coverage for prospective and former federal employees. “Tonight’s event was about bringing resources directly to my constituents and making sure they know how to protect themselves. I encourage anyone who couldn’t attend tonight to contact my office if they need assistance,” said Delaney.

About the Author: Jessica Li, is one of the editors-in-chief at MoCoStudent.org. MoCo Student is a countywide press network of MCPS students formed in 2012 information written by youths to the wider Montgomery County student body. Germantown Pulse has partnered with MoCoStudent.org to supplement our coverage.

Photos courtesy of Will MacDonald, Congressman John K. Delaney’s office.