OVC Provider Forum Transcript

Creating an Effective Identity Theft Coalition
Hazel Heckers, Merry O'Brien  -  2014/5/28
https://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
Thanks for discussing this important topic. Can you share helpful training/webinars available for advocates needing to assist victims of internet impersonation/ID assumption online?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 Victims and advocates searching for resources might be frustrated with the fact that there exists many "preventative" resources on this subject, but few after-the-fact resources. To a victim receiving this advice (either online or from a well-meaning advocate), this can feel like victim-blaming. In reality, online identity assumption is an incredibly easy crime to commit with limited penalties in most areas. So providing preventative resources aimed at protecting passwords of existing online sites is not as helpful as some would think.
 
2.  Hazel Heckers
 Internet impersonation is a challenge for law enforcement and advocates because it often does not fit in the traditional ID theft or fraud categories. In some cases, it may not even be a crime. There are ways to limit the cyber-stalking. The FBI has some wonderful resources for advocates dealing with cyber-crimes. I would suggest checking out the FBI.gov website. Also the National Stalking Resource Center website may have some helpful ideas. I will check with other agencies and see what might be in the works. Advocates may also call CBI and we can try to work on a plan for individual victims.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 Similarly, domestic violence victims whose perpetrators using IDT need more resources. Advocates can find training on this subject here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdGTKfAHvYc. I’d appreciate a training/webinar on online identity assumption/impersonation. The reason this and DV related IDT are so tough are because oftentimes the perpetrator motivations run deeper than financial benefit alone.
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 A handful of states (including NY, TX, HI, MS, LA, CA, sort of NJ etc.) have passed laws specific to online impersonation and identity theft (many have passed cyberstalking laws of various sorts though), but the protections for victims – and resources for those of us serving victims – are paltry at this point.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 It’s estimated that there exists 80 million fake social media accounts today – many of which were created to harm victims – by defaming their good names, publishing embarrassing photos or false information, and so on. This is more than a humiliation – this can deeply harm lives, cause individuals to lose jobs or miss opportunities, and might even become as serious as causing the government to believe a person is making terrorist threats when in fact, their perpetrator is doing so under their name.
 
 
I work with the statewide organization that trains and develops victim advocates in Washington. I sometimes hear from victim advocates that they have encountered some challenges with law enforcement not wanting to complete a report for identity theft. Do you have any feedback or recommendations for how to build and strengthen these relationships?
 
1.  Rose Torgerson
 Great recommendations! I can't wait to share! Thanks!
 
2.  Hazel Heckers
 If you have a coalition established, I would certainly encourage including someone who represents the front line officers, like Dispatch and Patrol. While you may already have a Chief on board, it is important to include the “boots on the ground” officers or their immediate command staff as well. This way, you will be better able to understand the challenges those officers face as well as helping to impact the way they respond to victims in the future.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 So how do we get from point A to point B? Through a multidisciplinary effort, where police, advocates, and other allied professionals form relationships and clear up misunderstandings and blame (realizing everyone’s job here is a challenge because IDT criminals often become specialists in their “field” and the crimes can be complex). Holding cross-trainings is a great way to do that!
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 The important thing is to train officers to know the requirement, and know that victims need the report to assert certain rights later in their recovery process working with the credit reporting agencies and others. Victims in turn, can be helped by an advocate who compassionately sets the stage for expectations – meaning that a police report is not a guarantee to pursue an investigation, but that it will help them assert their consumer and victim rights through the recovery process. If all parties – upfront - understand why a police report is taken in IDT cases, this will go far in reducing tensions and disappointment.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 To clear up confusion, NITVAN created a clickable online map where you can check out your state's laws on mandated police reports. In WA, for instance, victims are allowed to report to police in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred OR where the victim lives. The agency is required to make the report, but is not required to count the report in their "open cases" data. In some cases, agencies may be cautious to take an ID theft report if these cases will count in their open cases data. Because many IDT cases are not easily solvable, close-able cases, having a higher count can reflect poorly on the agency - even though if it is not their fault, and may be due to the nature of the crime. That's why laws such as the one in your state are helpful in increasing the number of reports.
 
6.  Hazel Heckers
 The first thing I encourage is a call to the department by an advocate. Often a detective in the Fraud Investigations Unit will act on the victim’s behalf and educate the dispatch officers about taking ID theft reports. You might then approach the LE Agency at the Command level and offer to provide educational workshops, roll call style training or pre-recorded training about your state’s ID theft reporting statutes. This will build goodwill and help victims who call in the future.
 
7.  Hazel Heckers
 It can be tricky advocating for law enforcement (LE) to take reports, so I am pleased to see you say you want to build/strengthen relationships. Remember that on the whole, LE Officers want to help victims of all crime, but are sometimes not fully educated about crimes like ID theft and fraud which are often handled directly by a prosecutor’s office or referred to civil court. Jurisdiction issues also become confusing. The people fielding the calls are usually Dispatch Officers, who may be sworn officer, or may be civilians, and are often not included in ID theft related training.
 
8.  Merry O'Brien
 Oftentimes, there is confusion within communities over whether (and which) law enforcement agencies are mandated to take police reports. This can be specifically murky with identity theft crimes because the perpetrator may live or have committed the crime multiple states away from the victim's home address. Whereas a victim of physical assault or robbery may be able to report immediately to their local police station, a victim of IDT may unfortunately be given the run-around, often times by well-meaning officers who believe that laws dictate that the report should be taken in the state(s) where the crime was committed versus where the victim lives, and so on.
 
 
One challenge I have encountered is the view identity theft is a lower-priority crime than others and there is often a lassiez faire attitude towards the recovery process. What recommendations do you have to increase "buy-in" from others when you encounter this mindset?
 
1.  Hazel Heckers
 If possible, include a Judge on your coalition. They are great advocates, and will be able to advise on legal matters and on the ways courts are perceiving the crimes.
 
2.  Hazel Heckers
 Another important piece is to get the issue in front of your state’s legislature, local city councils, etc. When approaching a legislator, it might be helpful to have a couple of people who have been victims who are willing to talk about how difficult and traumatizing the experience was for them, and how long and painful the recovery process can be for victims. This may help in changing laws as well as in changing attitudes of those who make the decisions about the budget. Adequate funding for ID theft and fraud investigations units at the law enforcement and prosecution levels is vital.
 
3.  Hazel Heckers
 I am so glad you asked this question, as this has got to be one of the primary concerns of everyone I know working in the arena of ID theft and fraud. There is so much to say about this, that we could do a web forum on just this issue. One thing that has been helpful for us is to find law enforcement officers who are passionate about responding to these crimes. Sometimes they are “street officers”, sometimes detectives. These are officers who will advocate internally for the victims of these crimes.
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 After discussing the impact, I recommend moving to a discussion of the types of identity theft. Point out to trainees that simple credit card fraud is only one piece of a larger puzzle that includes devastating cases of medical IDT, criminal IDT, IDT perpetrated by loved ones, and so on.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 When training on IDT, like other crimes - start your training at the most important focus: the victim impact. BJS data supports the fact that victims of identity theft experience emotional distress comparable to that reported by some types of assault victims. And the stress may be ongoing and hard to stop, because the crime can re-occur over the course of a lifetime. The identity 'genie' doesn't go back into the bottle, especially in cases where the victim's information has been sold through a data broker.
 
 
Victims speak to law enforcement and security/computer companies who tell the victim nothing can be done to find the perpetrators. How can advocates change that perception that nothing can be done?
 
1.  Charles Smith
 There are many cases, which are solvable at the local level. But you must understand some cases can not be solved. For example, a person gets a phone call stating his credit score can be lowered for $200. The victim gives his debit card number, date of birth, social security number, and name. Sometimes the victim falls for this type of scam. We have learned in many of these cases, the suspects are definitely in Nigeria, India, or Russia using internet phones. Local Law Enforcement has no jurisdiction. The Feds most often have no jurisdiction. These most often are not solved. Until the community adapts and educates, you will have these unsolved types of crimes.
 
2.  Hazel Heckers
 I would also encourage advocates to work with their local media to provide features on the cases that do get solved, not just the ones that don’t. Having a person who was a victim of ID theft interviewed along with the law enforcement officer who investigated and found a suspect, and a prosecutor who took the case to court would be a big step forward in changing the public perception of hopelessness. There are many success stories. Finding that media advocate can help publicize the positive results.
 
3.  Merry O'Brien
 This is why a compassionate response is so important. This response includes helping the victim form realistic expectations. In many cases, a monetary threshold may prevent the case from being pursued in the way a victim would hope it would be pursued. In other cases, there are simply not the personnel, training and/or resources needed yet in those areas to bring a case through the system. The important thing is to help the victim recover – and often recovery includes so much more than just the criminal justice system.
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 One of the first things officers and others responding to victims should know is that the initial and ongoing emotions experienced by victims may include an intense sense of violation because with this crime, the perpetrator knows details of the victim’s life, while the victim may not even know the perpetrator’s name, what they look like, or anything else. And the victim may never come to learn this information. That sort of violation, coupled by a typical response in cases of financial IDT of “the bank is the victim – not you,” can really cause a negative emotional state.
 
5.  Hazel Heckers
 Perceptions change slowly. As we have seen with crimes like child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, we do have the ability to change public perception, laws and responses to crimes. With ID theft cases, as advocates we must work closely not only with the victims of these crimes, but also with the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in our communities. We may often need to be a strong and loud advocate for cases to be investigated and prosecuted. In some cases, the suspects will not be found, as with any crime. The victims in those cases need to feel that everything was done to find the perpetrator and that his or her case was taken seriously. We need to increase the number of advocates who are familiar with ID theft and the huge impact it has on the lives of its victims.
 
 
Are resources available on how to start up a coalition for IDT as opposed to starting a program within an existing victim service organization? Is there a need for all victim service providers to have training on IDT (or at least someone in each program?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 Its great to hear you are interested in resources to start an IDT coalition - multidisciplinary relationships and cross-trainings with advocates, law enforcement, and more are truly key to improving the IDT victim's experience in their community after the victimization.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 In terms of providing a good, solid base of knowledge for victim service programs, I'd also recommend checking out OVCTTAC's page here: https://www.ovcttac.gov/views/TrainingMaterials/dspOnlineTraining.cfm and having advocates in your organization set aside time to go through the 40hr, intensive, interactive training on serving IDT victims. OVC also has available an ePub here: http://www.ovc.gov/pubs/ID_theft/idtheftlaws.html which provides an excellent, concise overview of IDT federal laws, the victim impact and lessons from the field - sharing what direct victim service programs learned about serving IDT victims.
 
3.  Hazel Heckers
 In answer to your second question: yes, I think it is important for there to be at least one advocate in every victim assistance program who has at least some knowledge about ID theft. It is a crime that is growing quickly, and the impact on victims is undeniable. Even if that person has only some knowledge, but knows who to turn to locally for expertise and on-going support, it will serve your community well to have educated victim advocates.
 
4.  Merry O'Brien
 Currently, the toolkit exists online here: http://identitytheftnetwork.org/toolkit. In the coming months, we are excited to report that the Toolkit will be included on OVC's web resources. OVC is transitioning NITVAN from a national scope TTA grant (originally funded to Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center) to its Training and Technical Assistance Center (OVC TTAC), as they generally do with their grantee-developed products. The toolkit will be moving over to OVC TTAC’s Web site (www.ovcttac.gov) as of August 17, so after that date, you can ask any questions about the toolkit or TA to OVC TTAC at 1-866-682-8822 or TTAC@ovcttac.org.
 
5.  Merry O'Brien
 Whether starting a new IDT coalition (local, state, etc) or enhancing existing services at a victim service organization, there is something for you to find in the NITVAN Toolkit. In fact, there is a entire section on starting a new coalition from scratch. This section provides information about inviting key partners, holding strategic planning sessions, finding community needs, and much more. It will walk any community through the initial steps.
 
6.  Merry O'Brien
 Yes, most definitely! In fact, beyond general victim service providers, DV-specific advocates, low-income legal assistance clinics, and allied professionals of all stripes do see identity theft victims, and can benefit from training to better serve these clients. In many cases, the issue will be called by different names - "consumer issues" or "financial justice issues" according to the field. But many of us in the helping professions brush up against IDT issues and can benefit from training.
 
 
I have used the National Identity Theft Victims Assistance Network (NITVAN) Tool-kit a lot when presenting and recommend it as a resource to a lot of people, too. While there is a lot of material for law enforcement, attorneys and advocates, who else do you see as a positive match for these resources or when creating a coalition?
 
1.  Hazel Heckers
 It is important not to leave out financial institutions and medical professionals as well as social caseworkers from your local department of human services. Financial institutions are at the center of most financial ID theft cases, yet are often left out of training and coalition building. As medical ID theft continues to be a problem, it is important to include representatives from the medical community. We know that youth in out of home placement, such as foster or kinship care or in youth corrections, are at very high risk for ID theft. Including the caseworkers is critical.
 
 
In your eyes, what is the most important lesson or rule for a coalition to be effective?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 A coordinator who can foster respect for all disciplines is key, in my opinion. There will be history in every community between groups - and asking these groups to come together for a common purpose takes careful organization - setting up interactions for success. Victim advocates, by their very definition are often placed in situations where they must advocate in opposition to certain systems, according to the victims' needs. On the other hand, law enforcement officers may have previously faced certain negative perceptions of who they are, how it is to train or work with them. Other groups may be competing for funding sources, or simply used to working in silos.
 
2.  Hazel Heckers
 Everyone’s opinion is valid, and there is always room at the table for more members. That said—huge coalitions can become ineffective. I would suggest structuring your coalitions to include committees or working groups to address specific issues. One thing that served us well was to establish an “Executive Committee” that included representatives from different arenas (such as law enforcement, prosecutors, DV advocates, medical, financial, Tribal representatives, etc.). This committee helped to set priorities and timelines and to direct the coalition in its early stages.
 
 
Have there been any studies that look at identity theft cases the treatment, causes and effects and provide recommendations of improvement?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 There are other organizations providing data related to IDT victims that also might interest you - including the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC): www.idtheftcenter.org/Table/ID-Theft-Blog/ITRC-Surveys-Studies/, the Ponemon Institute's Medical IDT Report: www.ponemon.org/blog/2013-survey-on-medical-identity-theft and the Identity Theft Assistance Center's (ITAC) Child IDT Report: www.identitytheftassistance.org/promo/2012_Child_Identity_Fraud_Report/2012_Child_Identity_Fraud_Report.html, among others!
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 The best available, national incident data comes from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and can be found here: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=42. In Dec '13, BJS released its most recent report. You can hear report authors, Erika Harrell & Lynn Langton, of BJS discuss the data, along with Eva Casey Velasquez of the Identity Theft Resource Center on this video: "Understanding the Latest BJS Data on Identity Theft Victimization - What it Means to Criminal Justice, Policy Makers, Victim Service Professionals and Allied Professionals" at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsyZfpTbSgM
 
 
are there any lessons learned from how the high profile data breaches (ie. Target, Nieman Marcus) were handled? Looking for insight on if there is any correlation between differnt types of crimes with high numbers of victims?
 
1.  Merry O'Brien
 Furthermore, let's consider how these letters provide follow-up. Victims may be offered 1yr free IDT protection service. However, victims are rarely told how they personally can take steps to recover or prevent further IDT.(See this FTC "Taking Charge" booklet for a great example of what to provide to victims: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge.pdf). Providing tools to empower victims to monitor their credit histories and so forth is important when crafting the response. The goal is not simply to convert victims to paying customers of credit monitoring services when the free year is finished. Also, many types of IDT, such as medical IDT, are not easily discoverable by credit monitoring alone. A multi-pronged, empowering response is needed.
 
2.  Merry O'Brien
 One issue this topic raises: how the victims are notified and the follow-up that occurs after large data breaches. Consider this example: last week's eBay breach notification letter assured clients that financial data was not thought to be compromised, yet names, addresses, DOB, phone numbers, emails, and passwords were stolen by the hackers. These are not minuscule pieces of information, simply because they are not financial in nature. Identity thieves can do a lot of damage, including starting the process of creating new account fraud with this info. It is important to consider what constitutes a risk in these cases.
 
3.  Hazel Heckers
 There have been so many high profile data breaches recently. One of the lessons learned that could help in building your coalition is the critical role financial institutions played in the quick response and recovery. In many cases, banks, credit unions and credit card companies contacted potential victims before their information was used and informed them of the risk, closed compromised accounts and established new accounts with additional protection. This quick response is the kind of support you want in your community to prevent crimes. If your coalition includes financial institution members, they may be willing to share information with their customers about who to talk with if you were a victim, safe online practices, how to reduce your risk when shopping, etc.
 
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