Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna talks fraud, scams

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna speaks to the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce about fraud and scams at its monthly meeting Tuesday. - Photo by Steven DeDual
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna speaks to the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce about fraud and scams at its monthly meeting Tuesday.
— image credit: Photo by Steven DeDual

There has been a lot of talk recently about fraud and scams, even in the newest form of communication, social media, and this was precisely the topic of Attorney General Rob McKenna’s speech to the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce members at their monthly meeting Tuesday.

“Tip No. 1 from your friendly neighborhood attorney general, if you receive a notification you’ve won the Canadian lottery, and you have not entered the Canadian lottery, it’s a scam,” McKenna said, prompting a burst of laughter from the crowd.

McKenna, after lightening the mood a bit, got down to the serious topic of fraud, especially in terms of how it affects business people.

According to McKenna, two-thirds of the time someone falls victim to identity theft, it is because that person lost control of their personal information, but one-third of the time it is because someone with whom the victim has done business loses that personal information.

McKenna said only 11 percent of the time information is seized via the Internet and secured systems that use encryption are only 2.5 percent likely to be breached.

“It is far more common for this information to be taken physically,” he said.

Stolen laptops, poorly discarded records and unsecured storage of those records have all been issues in identity theft cases throughout the state.

From a business standpoint, it is about securing information, and McKenna said the Federal Trade Commission has come up with a five-step plan to keep customers safe:

1. Take Stock — Know what personal information you have in your files and on your computers.

2. Scale Down — Keep only what you need for your business.

3. Lock It — Protect the information that you keep.

4. Pitch It — Properly dispose of what you no longer need.

5. Plan Ahead — Create a plan for responding to security incidents.

Identity theft is a big problem nationally, but according to McKenna, Washington is making good progress.

“A few years back we ranked seventh in the nation for number of identity thefts,” McKenna said. “Now we are down to 14th.”

Women are 26 percent more likely to become victims of identity theft and in 2008, more than $48 billion was taken nationally, he added. The average loss in Washington is $500.

Recently, the scammers have moved into the social media realm and cases of account hijacking are becoming more common.

“We have seen account hijacking involving Twitter for example,” McKenna said. “But we’ve also seen social media misused just for harassment purposes, for school bullying for example.”

The most recent reports of foul goings on have been surrounding e-mail accounts.

“We’ve seen a number of incidents of Hotmail accounts being hacked,” McKenna said. “And it’s not entirely clear how that is happening.”

There is no perfect way to protect yourself, but regularly changing passwords can make it less likely they will fall prey to a scammer, he added.

“It is a good idea to change your password on a regular basis,” he said. “Our office requires us to change our password every three months.”

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