Lessons on how to safeguard against identity theft slated

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It doesn't take much for someone to obtain private information. It can start with an e-mail, the swipe of a credit card or a familiar phone number showing up on your caller ID before you unwittingly wind up the victim of identity theft.

"Most people don't even know how it happened, and that's bad when you think about it," said Hale Guyer, a retired special investigator from northern Illinois.

For more than 32 years, Guyer worked with the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy at the College of DuPage, a community college in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and spent 10 years investigating computer crime, including identity theft and fraud.

"When you're going to jail under a warrant because someone opened up a checking account in your name (and flooded) the area with bad paper, that may be the first time you find out you've been victimized," he said.

Guyer will demonstrate the different ways anyone can become a victim of identity theft and computer crime and steps the public and law enforcement can take to combat identity theft at two programs hosted by the Central Peninsula Crime Stoppers and the Kenai chapter of the Alaska Peace Officers Association.

"Avoiding Identity Theft and other Computer Crimes" is a free presentation for the general public and will take place at 7 p.m. April 2 at Soldotna High School Auditorium.

"Investigating Identity Theft and other Computer Crimes" will take place the from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 3 at the Kenai Merit Inn. This program seeks to teach law enforcement and bank security officers and others how to respond to computer crime and the steps they need to take to successfully prosecute them.

Kalie Klaysmat, Crime Stoppers secretary and funding coordinator, said those wishing to attend the law enforcement presentation must register by March 25. The cost is $50.

"Crime stoppers is doing this program to inform the community about the dangers of identity theft," Klaysmat said. "It seems to be more prevalent. (This program is) something people should be interested in."

In addition to demonstrating how identity thieves and phishers can steal private information, Guyer said he'll show the gadgets and equipment they use to obtain that information. Identity thieves often use battery-operated credit card skimmers to steal peoples' Social Security number and other information that's stored in that magnetic strip on the other side of a credit card. These devices about half the size of an old Zippo lighter, Guyer said are small enough to fit into a pocket and capable of storing as many as 600 credit card numbers.

"After you've done that, you can download all that onto your computer and have enough information to start charging things," he said. "People (will go), 'Well, OK, if this is how they're doing it, this is how I'm going to protect myself.'"

Most of the students Guyer teaches are in law enforcement. Prosecuting identity thefts, phishing schemes and other computer-related crimes is difficult because the Internet allows a certain degree of anonymity, and often the perpetrators are in another state or country.

The most common forms of phishing schemes are the ones that come out of Nigeria, Guyer said. Traditional frauds and scams have been around for a long time, he said, now they've graduated into the high-tech world, and it's easier not to get caught.

Guyer compared a phishing scheme or other form of computer crime to a bank robbery. State, local and federal law enforcement would be looking for him if he had robbed a bank, he said, and he might have only gotten away with $2,000.

"The odds are I'm going to be convicted of that crime. Every police officer can make that arrest, (it requires) no special training," he said. "That's the reason the bad guys are starting to go toward the technology. The payoff is a lot bigger and it takes specialized training for someone to catch you."

One of the main things Guyer wants to emphasize is that he's not going to use computer jargon to explain and demonstrate how folks can protect themselves from computer crime. He said he won't even use computer jargon for the law enforcement officers who attend his six-hour workshop.

"I make sure anybody can get information out of it," he said. "You do not have to have any kind of computer background to learn how the bad guys are doing things, how to present evidence and how to present the best possible case for prosecution. This is not training for geeks."

For more information on the programs, call Klaysmat at 262-3279.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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