ID theft can be a matter of life and death, say South Kitsap consultants
July 29, 2008 · Updated 11:46 AM
There is a common joke about identity theft, where the narrator bemoans the quality of life, saying that anyone who wants to steal his identity can just help themselves.
But John and Tami Kelly of Port Orchard don’t find identity theft very funny.
As local representatives of the nationally networked Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc., they inform people about identity theft and then offer advice about how they can protect themselves against a crime that has become specific to the 21st Century.
“A lot of companies have access to your personal information,” Tami Kelly said while addressing a July 25 breakfast meeting sponsored by the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce. “If you don’t monitor the information you could lose a tremendous amount. In some cases it could be fatal.”
This may seem overdramatic, especially because Kelly is selling a product designed to protect from this very occurrence. Additionally, it looks a lot like insurance, and no one likes to hear they need to pay another $30 a month to protect themselves against something that may never happen.
But consider this: One of the common areas of identity theft is medical records, where the culprits steal your information in order to support their own treatment.
You may never know that someone in Tacoma is billing your insurance to pay for cancer treatment. That is, until you get into an accident driving through Tacoma, go to a hospital, and get the wrong blood type because your medical records are wrong.
Kelly sells to individuals, but her primary focus is corporate. She conducts identity prevention seminars wherever she is invited, for free.
The catch is that she be allowed to offer a sales pitch, so people are given an option to pay for a service that protects them.
Requests for these corporate visits have increased, due to a new law that makes companies accountable for the personal information that passes across their desks.
Employees must take the training, acknowledge receipt and take responsibility for informational security. The requirement goes into effect on Oct. 1.
Additionally, companies that handle personal data will need to appoint a security officer from the existing staff—in much the same way they are now required to appoint a safety committee.
Kelly gives certain tips away for free. For one thing, we need to be a lot more careful about paying our bills.
Kelly said that sending a utility statement from an unsecured home mailbox is an invitation to theft. There is an envelope with a check, with no numbers redacted.
There are account numbers, and other bank information. And the raised postal flag serves as an invitation to identity thieves.
The solution is to receive your mail at a post office box, or at the very least not send the bills from your home mailbox, with the flag up to notify the neighborhood.
Other safety tips include paying with cash whenever possible, and closely observing any person who takes possession of your credit card.
“This may mean following a waitress to the kitchen as she runs your card,” she said. “But it is within your rights.”
Identity theft protection is only part of the package. The service essentially provides legal insurance, offering round-the-clock access to attorneys when needed.
The Kellys have run the home-based business for nine years, after visiting a booth at the Kitsap County Fair.
They have become more effective and organized over the last two years, allocating Tami for instruction and John for recruitment.
Along with identity theft and legal coverage the company offers an important universal service, the writing and maintenance of a legal will.
“Seven out of 10 people don’t have a current will,” Kelly said. “And 10 out of 10 will eventually need one.”