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Local expert offers tips to prevent identity theft
By Dennis Box, The Courier-Herald
Who are you? A name, a social security number, a telephone number, a credit card number? It may be that identity in the age of computers and the Internet has become series of names and numbers that can be stolen and sold to the highest bidder.
Bonney Lake resident Bill Hearn knows a great deal about the shadowy world of identity theft. He is known as an information specialist and his business is called Confidential Sources.
"The majority of my clients are lawyers, private investigators, bail enforcement, repo people," Hearn said. "I don't do anything illegal. I make a lot more money staying legal, but I always have to be on guard for the con."
Hearn's work involves gathering information from pubic databases, but he emphasizes he is not a private investigator. "I can gather information, but I can't do surveillance. I can run address histories and phone histories to help find people."
He tells a tale of caution about people who gather information illegally to sell it or in attempts to steal money from credit card and debit card accounts.
"A lot of identity thieves are using pretexting to get information," Hearn said. "Passing themselves off as someone from the phone company or a jury person. It's nothing new. They call it pretexting now, but in the old days it was gagging. You were gagging information for this guy."
Pretexting is when someone tries to get another person's personal information - credit card numbers, social security numbers, unlisted phone numbers. Often, a pretexter will sell the information to someone who may try to get credit, steal assets or set up an identity with someone else's name.
"Watch who you are giving information to and watch what your kids say," Hearn said. "Kids give up everything. Train your kids not to say anything on the phone, tell them to refer to their parents."
In 1999 Congress passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act outlawing pretexting or gathering personal information by making fraudulent statements. The practice of pretexting may have been slowed, but it continues.
"There's big money in selling information, and the weakest link isn't computers or the Internet, it's the human element," Hearn said. "The human source is still the best place to get information."
Debit cards are another susceptible source according to Hearn. "I don't think a person should ever put their debit cards over the Internet. A lot of people don't understand a thief doesn't need a pin number to clean out your account."
Part of Hearn's work is to help people who have been hit by information and identity thieves. "I can help with identity theft and track down who ripped them off."
The problem is once your information has been stolen, it is very difficult to put the egg back together again.
"Don't sit in the woods and fear for your life," Hearn said. "Just watch out who you are giving information to."
Along with helping people with identity and information theft problems, Hearn locates lost family members. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Box can be reached at email@example.com