Feds, non-feds learn about identity theft

GERMANTOWN, Md.  — Fearing their personal information may be in the hands of hackers, people packed the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown Thursday for a forum on preventing and dealing with identity theft.

Many of the attendees were current and past federal employees who believe their records were a part of two big data breaches.

“A lot of people are scared,” said Congressman John Delaney who represents Maryland’s 6th congressional district. He said the event was planned before the cyberattacks on the government came to light.

The speakers didn’t specifically focus on government workers, but did offer general advice for people in this digital age who believe their personal information has been put at risk. Among the agencies that took part in the forum were the U.S. Treasury Inspector General’s Office, the Federal Trade Commission, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and Maryland State Police.

“If your social security number has been stolen from someone, you’re 18 times more likely to suffer identity theft,” said Maryland Attorney General Brain Frosh.

The advice to those in attendance included closely watching bank accounts and changing all passwords.

“Think about passwords and security questions that don’t relate to your personal information,” said Lisa Schifferle with the Federal Trade Commission.

Schifferle said if people fear their information is at risk, they should consider filing for a 90-day fraud alert with the major credit bureaus, which requires creditors to take reasonable steps to verify a person’s identity. Credit freezing is also an option but isn’t a good one for anyone planning to buy a car, house or open a line of credit anytime soon.

Crooks can also target a person’s tax information and seek to have the victim’s tax rebate sent to them. To help prevent that, people can file a form [http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039.pdf] to let the IRS know their social security number may have been stolen.

The Office of Personnel Management didn’t take part in the discussion but did set up a table to answer the questions of attendees. That table drew a very long line as current and former federal employees sought answers.

“Did a nation state really come after all that information for ID theft?” asked Steve Cohn, a recently retired federal worker from Germantown. He said he still hasn’t been notified as to whether or not he is a victim of either government data breach.

“I’m concerned,” said Leonard Smith, who says as he was going through a renewal background check, he discovered all of his information was stolen.

Not everyone was critical of the response by the government to the cyberattacks.

“It seems like the government is handling it very well and hopefully that will continue,” said Captain James Moore, who is retired from the United State Public Health Service.

Delaney said taking on the government data breaches will require not only the government, but individuals to take steps to keep crooks at bay.

“Just like they install alarm systems in their home and lock their doors at night, they have to start thinking about that as it relates to their personal data,” Delaney said

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