Miami fraud victims want tighter regulations, study says


Less than a third of Miami identity theft victims believe that the federal government does enough to protect consumer data.

Keeping your identity safe

Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Florida, offers a few tips for consumers to avoid identity theft:

Use smart passwords and security questions. For example, instead of “What was your first car?,” use a question that can’t be researched, such as “What do you wish was your first car?”

Don’t click on suspicious links, even if they appear to come from friends.

Treat your social security number like a trade secret. If someone asks for it, challenge him or her.

Shred documents before you toss them. “We’ve seen cases where criminals will do dumpster dives,” Ferrer said.

Keep your important documents in a safe.

Use an official mailbox rather than your own — a red flag on a residential mailbox can attract thieves.

Miami accounts for twice the number of identity theft complaints as the state per capita average — and Florida has the highest rate of any state in the country, said Wifredo Ferrer, South Florida’s top federal prosecutor.

As data breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus draw international attention, shoppers are looking for accountability, according to a National Consumers League survey released Monday. Miami respondents overwhelmingly said the government should create one national standard to thwart thieves.

“Consumers want to know if a breach happens, even if it’s not going to affect them,” said John Breyault, who manages the consumer advocacy organization’s campaign.

Breyault was part of a panel of identity theft experts who spoke Monday at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus to launch the league’s #DataInsecurity Project. The project aims to shine light on how data breaches affect consumers and promote policy reform.

Tax return fraud is the fastest-growing type of identity theft in Miami, Ferrer said.

One Miami-Dade Public Schools food service worker was able to get the social security numbers and birth dates of birth of every child in the county, he said. A hospital in Broward County lost 1,300 identities to a fraudster accessing its information network remotely.

Violent criminals often turn to data theft to supplement arms and drug trafficking, said Ferrer. “It’s more lucrative, less dangerous, and unfortunately, it’s very easy to do.”

The results released Monday came from a survey conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research for the National Consumers League. Two hundred fraud victims were surveyed in May 2014, including 50 in Miami, and 50 each in Los Angeles, Chicago and Minneapolis. Of the fraud victims, 150 had information compromised in a data breach.

Only 30 percent of Miami fraud victims surveyed think the federal government does enough to protect consumer data. While Florida has a state law requiring businesses to notify customers if their computerized data may have been compromised, Breyault said consumers increasingly support a federal data breach law.

After Target took four days to make public a $53.7 million breach that started a day before Thanksgiving 2013, lawmakers began to file disclosure legislation. One bill would require businesses to tell federal agencies and consumers about breaches. Breyault said the bills are unlikely to make progress anytime soon.

Banks’ tight regulations require them to notify customers of data breaches within 45 days in Florida, so people often think banks are the least secure holders of information, said Al Pascual, who conducted the study for Javelin Strategy & Research.

But half of the 150 fraud victims who were affected by a data breach said a retailer was the leaky pipe. Credit card companies and financial institutions were a distant second and third.

Ferrer said even if they’re not required to, businesses should work with law enforcement agencies to try to stamp out identity fraud.

“We can never eliminate it, but we can try to get ahead of it and try to prevent it,” he said.

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