(Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot)

Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, is teaching the business world not to mess with the personal information of Texans.

Using a series of laws that he wrote an essay on, AG Abbot has taken legal action against Radio Shack, CVS Pharmacy and CNG Financial Corporation doing business as as Check and Go and Southwestern & Pacific Specialty Finance for not properly protecting people’s information. His office also has pending action against “Select Physical Therapy Texas Limited Partnership and its parent company, Select Medical Corporation, as well as Minnesota-based LifeTime Fitness for improperly discarding customer records,” according to a press release on his site.

Notably, it didn’t take a crack team of computer security geeks to crack these cases. In all of these instances, the investigators used a more old fashioned, but often effective investigative technique called dumpster diving.

Going back to my original premise that there is a lot of unprotected information being compromised too easily, these cases represent how much low hanging fruit is available to identity thieves.

This probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who has taken a look at Attrition.org’s Data Loss Database – Open Source. Fairly frequently, mass amounts of information go missing for not very “technical” reasons.

On Tuesday, the Texas AG site announced a new tool to assist Texans in recovering from becoming an identity theft victim:

The Attorney General’s Identity Theft Victim’s Kit offers a step-by-step priority checklist that victims can use as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Once the identity theft has been confirmed, for example, victims should quickly close all bank, credit, utility and service accounts. Next, victims should contact one of the major credit bureaus and request that fraud alerts or security freezes be placed on their credit reports. This action prevents new accounts from being opened fraudulently under victims’ names.

Also mentioned in the press release is that it still pays to report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission. They point out that, “many creditors will accept this affidavit on victims’ behalf in lieu of a police report about the crime.”

They also point out something that I think is even more important:

A recent trend among identity thieves suggests the criminal may use victims’ personal information to obtain a driver’s license, file for bankruptcy, seek Social Security benefits or apply for a passport. In such cases, the Identity Theft Victim’s Kit instructs victims to immediately contact any government agencies approached by identity thieves.

A lot of people have been led to believe that the final solution to preventing identity theft is to monitor your credit bureau. Unfortunately, a lot of this has been driven via advertising campaigns by some of the pay for protection identity theft services.

Identity theft isn’t only a problem in financial crimes. Criminals steal identities to work, obtain government benefits and to commit a wide range of “other than financial crimes.”

Critics of the pay for protection industry have often pointed out these paid services, although convenient, accomplish what a person could do free-of-charge, themselves. Since it is an unregulated industry, the services offered varying levels of protection, also.

There are some of these services that are way better than others, and if you decide to go shopping for one, the term “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) is a wise principle to apply.

This site, http://www.texasfightsidtheft.gov/index.shtml, offers one click access to all the steps a person needs to take to recover from becoming an identity theft victim. It also offers a lot of resources that a prudent person can use to prevent identity theft.

After reviewing this site, I noted that it could be used by citizens of just about anyone residing in the United States of America.

In closing, the approach taken by Attorney General Abbott and his office is refreshing and a lot of other elected officials would benefit from studying what I consider a “no nonsense” approach to combating identity theft.

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