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Lately, a day doesn’t go by without new reports of identity theft, massive data breaches or cybercrime occurring somewhere in the world. “Scams and fraud have been a part of history since the beginning of time,” says identity theft expert Steven J. Weisman ’70. “Everyone is doing it—organized crime as well as disorganized crime. It’s easy to accomplish and hard to catch and convict, so we all have to do a much better job protecting ourselves.”  

A philosophy major at UMass Amherst, Weisman went on to earn his juris doctor at Boston College Law School. In addition to his law practice in Cambridge MA, he is a senior lecturer at Bentley University and has written nine books on identity theft, scams and financial planning. He is a frequent expert speaker on national news programs and has been cited in numerous publications including The Boston Globe, Barron’s, The New York Times, Money Magazine, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

A victim of identity theft himself, Weisman has immersed himself in researching the topic. From the FBI and the Office of Homeland Security to private security firms and think tanks, Weisman is constantly reviewing the latest reports on criminal activities and providing updates and tips on his website, scamicide.com.

There are a few security basics that everyone should practice according to Weisman. “Regardless of how incredibly new and sophisticated the latest malware, hackers still need to get it downloaded,” Weisman explains, “And so, the biggest mistake that people make is clicking on links in emails, even when it looks like a reliable source. Never click on a link or download an attachment unless you can absolutely confirm that it’s legitimate. This kind of skepticism is basic protection.”

Children can also unknowingly put a family at risk by downloading free games or music that comes with malware. His advice to parents who do financial transactions or taxes online is to use a separate computer from the rest of the family to avoid a breach in sensitive data or records.

Another major issue that parents need to be aware of is child identity theft. “Children are 50 times more likely to become victims of identity theft than the general population,” warns Weisman. “Criminals can run up debt that the victim won’t become aware of until perhaps he or she turns 18 and applies for financial aid or a car loan.”

Weisman is currently working on legislation in Massachusetts that would allow parents to freeze a child’s credit report. A credit report freeze prevents new creditors from viewing credit reports and scores through the major creditbureaus.  As most businesses require a credit check, a freeze can deter identity thieves from forming new accounts and running up debts.

What should you do if you become a victim of identity theft? Weisman refers people to a step-by-step guide developed by the Federal Trade Commission entitled, Taking Charge: What to do if your identity is stolen.

 

By Elena Lamontagne