STEUBENVILLE - There is a person with a stellar credit rating, a good job, the best health insurance available and a fairly foolproof way of getting out of any trouble with the police.
That person is likely a creation of the identity theft business, a created amalgam of personal data from several people, and a tough thief to catch because he's a creation of synthetic identity theft.
That's just one of seven areas of potential identity theft discussed by Mark Priganc, a Steubenville native who works for Kroll worldwide in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the world's leading risk management company, and Prepaid Legal Service from Ada, Okla., which specializes in identity restoration and protection.
Priganc is a certified identity theft risk management professional, his life's work after an eight-year stint in the Marine Corps. He's authored "Identity Theft: The Personal Guide - Cold Hard Reality" as a way to teach readers about how to protect themselves.
And his first reality check: Identity theft cannot be prevented.
While that may seem counterintuitive for a person who specializes in helping people to protect themselves from identity theft, Priganc is honest. Our personal information is available and accessible and can be stolen. People can make it harder to steal personal information, but thieves who want data will find it, he said.
Priganc said most people, including police, tend to equate identity theft with bank or credit fraud, which is only one part of the potential crime.
"I can destroy your world and never touch your money," he said.
Priganc said there are seven basic areas of identity theft:
Drivers license information. Where underage college kids once used fake driver's licenses to get into bars, criminals can use them as identification to the police. By the time the real person knows what's happened, he could be facing charges and the attendant job suspension and loss of professional licenses and income while working for weeks to clear his name. Priganc noted it takes on average 600 to 1,500 hours to resolve identity theft, meaning a person could go a minimum of 15 weeks without income. Think of a person who depends on a professional license to do his job, such as a truck driver, facing a DUI charge created by a fake ID user.
Medical. A person uses stolen information to receive medical treatment. Not only does this create a financial nightmare, it could create injury or death. If an unconscious person whose identity has been stolen is brought to a hospital for treatment, the person could be receiving medicines intended for the person who stole his identity.
Social Security number. Priganc details how easy it is to obtain the numbers. In frightening fashion, he was able to come close to his questioner's first five digits, and databases can help thieves get even closer to those numbers. To get the final four takes only "social engineering," conning a person into giving the numbers. Social Security numbers can be used to obtain employment and avoid taxes, which could come back on the real number holder years later.
"You didn't report income, and you're guilty until proven innocent," he said.
Character and criminal. The ID holder commits crimes in the name of the real person.
"Credit monitoring alone doesn't cut it," Priganc said. "Most of the country has dinged-up credit now for obvious reasons."
Credit monitoring won't prevent a criminal from using another person's identity when charged with a crime, for instance, ruining the good name of an individual in the process.
Financial identity theft. This, Priganc said, is what most people think of as ID theft, though thieves are moving into more lucrative areas, such as Social Security and medical identity theft. That's where the money is made in selling data to end users seeking to use someone else's identity, he said.
Synthetic identity theft. The thieves are sophisticated enough to mine data from various sources and create an identity that is an amalgam of material: The address of one person, the Social Security number of another, medical information from a third, etc.
Master death identity theft. Priganc said it is easy for people to obtain the Social Security numbers of dead people and use them.
Prevention is not possible, but some level of protection is. Priganc touts the products of the companies he represents, Kroll and Prepaid Legal Services, as good protection, but he also offers basic tips, beyond just shredding documents and anything with personal information before putting it into the trash. Any items, from paperwork to cell phones to personal data assistants or laptops should not be left unattended anywhere that they can be taken easily.
"You need to revoke any permissions of sharing information that you have given to people," he said. That means filing formal letters with everyone from your physician to magazine publishers to warn them you don't want your data sold to outside vendors. He has a downloadable version of such a letter on his Web site at www.identitytheft-reality.com.
Priganc said people also should opt out of any preapproved credit card offers, which make it easy for ID theft.
Check your credit reports quarterly and if married, alternate between spouses getting the reports, which allows more frequent checks during the year.
It's also a good idea to check into obtaining ID theft protection services from someone like Priganc, he said.
"It doesn't eliminate your stress level. Identity theft is still going on," he said. "I'm not immune. It could still happen."
(Giannamore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)