Identity Theft in Indian Country
Dianne Barker-Harrold, Dan Hally  -  2007/7/12
http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
Hi - Are there any messages about avoiding/reporting ID theft that are particular to Indian Country? What are the best ways to get messages out (e.g., radio/newspaper pieces, print brochures, reminders through other service agencies in the community - or anything you can think of)?
 
1.  Mary Jane
 I recently heard about a form of Identity theft where callers are telling people that they may have missed jury duty. They go on about the penalty of missing jury duty, then go on to request SS# and DOB, to verify if they missed it or not. NOT GOOD. Hopefully NP and Asotin Counties are making people aware of this theft tactic.
 
2.  Dan Hally
 Getting the word out about Identity Theft is the first step to prevention. A particularly effective method I have used is to provide training sessions at the community Elder Center. Articles which provide helpful tips and resource information are also effective particularly when distributed in a local newspaper.
 
 
I've heard that identity theft and meth use/production sometimes go hand in hand. Is this also the case in Indian Country? And if so, how can victim advocates best serve all the different victims that can be affected when a lab is raided?
 
1.  Dianne Harrold
 Meth is a plague which is invasive and Indian Country is no exception. When a person gets hooked, they will do anything for next fix-rob, steal, kill because of the intense effect of methamphetamine. I agree that logging on the the web site Dan mentioned extremely informative. For victims advocates, information and knowledge is key. Families who have friends or family members with a meth problem should have a heightened awareness when it comes to their personal information and not release it to the person or make access to personal information easy. Never give your credit card to someone else to use, your pin numbers should never be given to someone else, etc. It is human nature to want to help someone, hope that they will end their addiction, rehabilitate their lives. However, meth addicts are cunning and will do whatever to get their next fix if it means financially devestating a friend or family member.
 
2.  Dan Hally
 The use and production of methamphetamines does go hand in hand with identity theft. There are producers and distributors of methamphetamines who use drug users to gather personal information such as mail or other documents in exchange for the drug. They prey on the addiction of the individual to gather information for them. I recommend that when law enforcement raids a Meth House they include the search for personal information documents to help victim advocate notify these victims that they may be the victim of identity theft. A great resource for advocates to help victims of identity theft is the Presidents Task Force on Identity Theft Strategic Plan for Combating ID Theft. You can download this document at www.idtheft.gov.
 
 
Are there any statistics that give us an idea of how many identity theft victims there are in Indian Country?
 
1.  Dianne Harrold
 There is not much statistical or anecdotal information in the public domain. Most of my information comes from working directly for victims and for tribes themselves as these incidents occur. What I do know is that a great number of tribes have elder abuse codes and fraud codes, usally dealing with theft of Native American art. Tribes need to begin enacting codes dealing with this issue so that we can see where the greatest incidences are and who is committing the crimes. What I do see is that the national trend is that strangers commit the most ID theft in non-Indian Country. However, in Indian Country is most likely to be someone they know or are related to.
 
 
Are there specific types of identity theft that are more common in Indian Country (i.e. falsifying Tribal ID cards)?
 
1.  Dan Hally
 One particular type of Identity Theft I have found to be more common in Indian Country is the theft of identity during contact with law enforcement. This occurs when someone does not have identification when they are stopped by law enforcement during a traffic stop or criminal investigation and they provide the identity information of a family member or friend. This happens more frequently by those who move from one tribal community to another. The victim may be arrested in the future on a warrant based upon the false information provided by the perpetrator at the time of contact with law enforcement. It is extremely important that law enforcement do whatever possible to verify physical information during these types of situations.
 
2.  Dianne Harrold
 Very little research is found about ID theft in Indian Country and we are hoping this forum will increase that awareness. Most of the ID theft in Indian Country deals with family members or close friends who use elder or deceased relatives information to obtain money,loans,credit,finance a car, that type of thing. Usually it is a young family member living with an elderly family member who is incapacitated in some way which makes getting their person information easier to obtain and use. This is different than non-Indian Country where the largest number of ID thefts are perpetrated by strangers.
 
 
We've been discussing identity theft as it relates to the Native community, which raised the issue of cases in which non-Native persons pretend to be Native to receive particular benefits. Is this also considered a type of identity theft? And, if so, how is this prosecuted and how can we help the victims, who are in essence the tribal community as a whole?
 
1.  Dianne Harrold
 In the instance of non-Native persons, the tribe is unable to prosecute those offenses so they would be referred to the state (for PL-280) or to federal prosecutors. This kind of activity is a type of fraud, obtaining money or property by false pretenses, etc. Very few tribes have codes that address ID theft and that should be encouraged. To benefit the tribal community as a whole, steps should be taken to secure tribal rolls and have a secure type of tribal ID card with a photo to deter this type of activity. Community education is always helpful, as well.
 
 
With limited internet access on reservations, how do criminals readily get information from those living in Indian Country ... enough to steal their identities?
 
1.  Dan Hally
 There are numerous methods of gathering information to perpetrate the crime of Identity Theft. Some of the more common methods are through telephone contact. A common method is to call into a home, particularly to an Elder and to pose as a representative from their bank and ask for information to update an account or they make the statement that they are investigating unusual activity on their account and need the information to stop fraudulent activity. Accessing information through the trash is also a very common tactic for gathering information. Too many people are still throwing out their personal information without properly shredding the documents. I recommend a cross cut shredder in lieu of a strip shredder. A recent example of a mass attempt at identity theft in Indian Country was the mailing of a letter which appeared to be from the IRS asking for individuals to complete a W-8 BEN form and to mail it back in.
 
 
What steps are state officials, such as the various Attorney Generals, doing to combat ID theft in Indian Country?
 
1.  Dianne Harrold
 There are complicated jurisdictional issues with state jurisdictions and Indian Country. However, if someone is Non-Native either states prosecute the case in PL-280 states or the federal prosecutors prosecute Non-Natives in Indian Country. The best steps to take is for the state agencies and the tribes to work together for a public show of support and collaboration to deter this type of crime. Sometimes there is a perception that some crimes in Indian County will slide through the cracks and that needs to dispelled whenever possible. Collaboration, cooperation and communication are key.
 
 
Are there particular characteristics/circumstances that make the Native community more prone to becoming victims of ID theft?
 
1.  Dan Hally
 The rural settings of many native communities make them prime targets for Identity Theft. The train of thought that we are safe because we are a small community where everyone knows each other actually works in favor if the identity theft perpetrator. Members of small rural communities tend to be less likely to take prevention steps such as shredding personal documents. A second condition for native communities is the frequent lack of cooperation between law enforcement jurisdictions. Criminals have known this for years and use it to their advantage.
 
 
Is there any legislation that directs advocates/law enforcement/courts on how to address identity theft victims?
 
1.  Dan Hally
 I am not aware of any specific legislation, but the recent release of the President's Identity Theft Task Force's Combating Identity Theft a Strategic Plan is a great resource. You can locate the document by a simple search on the internet or by going to www.idtheft.gov.
 
 
Are there law enforcement jurisdictional issues that arise during the course of investigating these cases?
 
1.  Dan Hally
 Yes, there are the same jurisdictional issues raised with identity theft cases as with other crimes in Indian Country. The situation is compounded where the perpetrators may not only be non-tribal, they may be located out of the country. It is important for tribal, city, state, and federal agencies to work together to establish plans for addressing identity theft prior to an incident being reported.
 
 
As a crime victim advocate, what advice can I give someone living on a reservation to be aware of the theft of their identity? Are there indicators that may warn people that their IDs have been stolen?
 
1.  Dianne Harrold
 The best advice is the same as off reservation: check your credit report-you can get a free one at least once a year; don't give out pertinent information such as birthdays, social security numbers, access to bank accounts, all the things which would provide some type of access. If you have passwords-think of something outrageous no one could guess-something besides your pet's name, mother's maiden name, etc. Or if you use those-use a fake one: for examply if they ask for your mother's maiden name use another name like Goldilocks, Snow White, that might not be so easy for scam artists and identity theieves to guess. Indicators would be an increase of credit offers in the mail signifying new credit has been issued. Of course, more obvious ones is calls from creditors that you know nothing about, phone calls asking for personal information or asking if you received your new credit card, etc.
 
2.  Dan Hally
 Two practices I recommend are to recommend that they check your credit reports. Look for telltale markers of identity theft, say, an address change you didn't make or new account you didn't open. Cancel accounts you don't use or only rarely useopen credit is a prime target. Regularly check bank statements. Monitor your accounts frequently for suspicious activity.
 
 
To what extent is ID theft associated with casino profits and tribal membership disputes?
 
1.  Dianne Harrold
 The relationship of those two issues come together in the instance where tribes provide per capita revenues back to the individual tribal members, the small the tribe, the larger casino profits, the larger per capita payments all create an environment for identity theft. There will always be those who claim membership but cannot provide the documentation necessary for membership. The best way to avoid exploitation of these benefits is for the tribe to place strong controls over both the payments and the eligibility for receiving them. Many tribes are focusing on the elders like the Bay Mills Tribe where much of this money goes to the elders to pay their utilities, etc. Other tribes make sure they provide educational monies. The idea of large per capita payments is experiencing a review since it does not give some an incentive to work or get an education. Those are the central issues of casino profits. The more sophisticated the membership procedures are with the tribe, the less danger exists for ID theft of tribal membership cards and identification.
 
 
Is mail theft a major problem in Indian country?
 
1.  Dan Hally
 The theft of mail is a growing problem in Indian Country. One factor which hinders mail theft in Indian Country is the use of postal boxes for mail pick up is done at a higher percentage. You just have less home delivery than in many other areas. Mail theft really becomes an issue when folks throw out mail without shredding it. An example is the credit card offers which so many folks receive on a regular basis. They don't reply, they just throw it in the trash. These are a great target for criminals. They complete the application with a change of address or go online and complete the application and when the new card is approved and sent, it goes to the new address indicated by the thief. It is important that all mail is run through the shredder and when mailing letters and paying bills to be sure and use secure mailing sites in lieu of a home mail box for those items to be picked up.
 
 
Are there any government programs emphasized on prevention or punishment of crimes particularly against tribal communities or native victims?
 
1.  Dianne Harrold
 There are a number of web sites but none are Indian Country specific. www.idtheft.gov; www.ftc.gov/idtheft; or call 1-877-ID-THEFT for questions or to report an ID theft. The National Crime Prevention Council has some good information at www.ncpc.org and the National Center for Victims of Crime at www.ncvc.org also has a wonderful interaction web site for information. Finally, you can go to the OVC at http://www.ovc.gov/help/it.htm. None of these are Indian Country specific but have a lot of good information about identity theft.
 
 
What type of training program do you recommend that victim advocates or other professionals undertake in order to provide a more conscientious aid to native victims?
 
1.  Dianne Harrold
 Education and knowledge is power. I check OVC's training calendar for upcoming trainings at www.ovc.gov. I would also check out National Center for Victims of Crime for their information at www.ncvc.org another resource is the national crime prevention counsel www.ncpc.org; for ID theft consumer education materials online got to www.ftc.gov/idtheft and you can download materials and an ID theft complaint which will give great insight to information that is routinely taken and what to look for. Once you have armed yourself with this information-get the word out. Tribal elders are the most vulnerable and id theft is usually perpetrated by family or close friends which is NOT the norm in non-Indian Country. We hope that this web forum encourages more interest and questions and results in more awareness.
 
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