Eva Casey-Velasquez President/CEO at Identity Theft Resource Center

Satish: You’re listening to the Digital Identity Show. This is your host, Satish. And today on our show, I have Eva Velasquez. She’s the president and the CEO of Identity Theft Resource Center. Eva is recognized as a nationwide expert on identity theft, data breaches, scams, and related topics. Welcome to the show, Eva. How are you?

Eva: Oh. I’m great. Thank you so much for having me. I’m ready to inform your audience.

Satish: hat’s what I would like to hear. And you’ve been associated with identity theft. First, give us an idea of what is identity theft and how are you associated with it.

Eva: Well, identity theft is … it’s almost a misnomer, but most people understand the crime in that context. We, at the Identity Theft Resource Center actually call it identity crimes because we’re looking at any time an individual’s identity credentials are misused or used without their permission. I’ve been in this space for decades actually. I started off in the role at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office of investigating financial crimes and white collar crime. So my foray into the victims services space is actually really a natural evolution because I found that while I received a lot of satisfaction out of investigating and getting the bad guy, I did see that victims services for victims of financial crimes in general and identity crimes in particular, there really just aren’t a lot of options out there, and this is a devastating crime, both financially and emotionally on victims. So I wanted to be a part of a national movement that would help make these services more available to the public. And of course, not everybody can pay a company to help them with this issue, so I’m really proud to be running in organization that provides all of these services completely free to the public.

Satish: Wow. That’s very interesting. Thanks a lot for that information. You’ve seen quite a few of identity thefts or the various vectors when it comes to identity being compromised. What are some of things which you run into regularly?

Eva: Well, I think most people are familiar with financial identity theft, and that’s where their financial instrument is misused, whether it’s a credit card or a bank account or they’ve had new accounts of some kind opened in their name, financial accounts, and they tend to think that’s all that identity theft is. And that’s not the case. Any time that your identity is used for goods, services, benefits, a thief can take that, impersonate you, and monetize that. For example, government identity theft is a real thing. Thieves will use your information to file fraudulent returns, tax returns, and that’s both with the IRS and on the state level. They can use your information to do things like apply for Medi-Cal or other types of state benefits, like unemployment or disability. They can even take over someone’s social security payments, take over that account and have the payments diverted to them. So there are a lot of different ways that thieves can monetize our identity credentials, not just in the financial world or with financial instruments.

Satish: Ah, okay. And currently, if you look at the last year and a half, maybe it’s more of news being accessible, or maybe it was the same. There’s this huge increase in the number of breaches. Pretty much almost every day, I get to hear one. And how do those breaches, how is identity theft impacted by these breaches?

Eva: They absolutely do, and what is interesting about data breaches, because the Identity Theft Resource Center has been capturing publicly available breached data. So things like what entity was breached, what type of information was compromised, how was it accessed. We’ve been doing that for well over a decade. And last year, one of the interesting trends was that the actual number of incidents publicly reported went down from the previous year, but the number of records that were exposed quadrupled.

So what that tells me is first of all, that data is extremely valuable to thieves. It is not getting less valuable. It’s getting more valuable. And frankly, they’re getting better at their job because they are able to capture more records and more data in a single incident than they were before. So that should be alarming. Unfortunately, people look and go, well look, the number of breaches went down, so that must mean we’re having an impact. No. The thieves are having an impact and getting better at their job because they can rake in more data and information about us frankly with doing less work. The way that the data breach ecosystem and incident rate impacts identity theft is that those are the tools. If you think of your identity credentials as the framework and the tool the thieves need to steal your identity, then of course, the more that they have at their disposal, the more they’re going to be able to commit their crimes.

So as they are able to, without our permission and without authorization, gain access to especially the really critical identity credentials … again, the more tools they have at their disposal, the more identities that they can steal, and the more that they can feed the fraud ecosystem and keep making money off of us as the individual victims, but also off of the institutions that are affected.

Satish: Wow. So, with the changing landscape, right, what is the major concern right now, what is on your mind, and what do you think the listeners would like to know? The landscape is changing. It’s a lot more dynamic than before. So what is something that keeps you up at night, and what do you think our listeners should know a little bit more about how to handle with this scenario?

Eva: That’s a great question because it’s not going to be what you think. I am seeing that our identity credentials and the data that we create, it’s expanding at this incredible rate, and we, as the end users and the end creators of that data, are not recognizing just how valuable it is and how much more of it we’re creating. So if you think of your identity like a puzzle, and in the center of that puzzle, maybe it’s the picture of your face, and those are your really critical identity credential pieces. Your social security number, driver’s license number, date of birth, maybe financial instruments, account numbers, things of that nature. It used to be very reasonable and effective to focus on those pieces and say, “I only have to worry about these pieces because that’s what the thieves need.” And that simply isn’t the case anymore.

The puzzle is expanding, and those pieces on the periphery, things like your behavior and other types of things that can be monitored and measured, your presence online. Those things are actually … have become more valuable just in the last couple of years mainly because the thieves or the legitimate industries are putting a lot of effort into fraud analytics and detecting fraud before it occurs. And the way that they do that is … think of your bank, for example. Everybody’s gotten the call. “Did you just make this charge on your card?” And regardless of your answer, right, you’re either going to say, “Oh yeah. That was really me.” Or, “Oh my gosh. No, it wasn’t. Somebody’s got ahold of my card.” But the thing to notice there is that your bank or your credit card issuer, how are they parsing those out? They don’t call you with every charge that you make. They are looking for anomalous behavior. That’s what their fraud analytics and analysts are doing. They’re looking for anomalous behavior. How can they know that? They have to know what your regular shopping or buying behavior is.

That is a really legitimate use of your behavioral data. Very legitimate use. But when the thieves know that, they can then do a better job of pretending to be you. So if the thieves now know where you shop, where you bank, how you shop, they can make those purchases look more like you because they’re mirroring your behavior. And that’s just one example that I’m talking about is this ever-expanding puzzle that is your identity and your identity credentials. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Satish:  Very informative. I think you hit it right the nail on the head. I think that gives me a few ideas. I think we should do a call some other time to delve into those details. But based on the time, Eva, thanks a lot for joining in and giving us a overview of what is identity theft and the kind of theft you get to see and also what is your immediate concerns right now. Glad that we have you on the call, and we’ll have you again on our show something soon. Thanks a lot for you time.

Eva: Thank you so much, and I look forward to any future discussions about the topic. It’s such an important one to cover. So thank you. It was a pleasure to be here.

Satish: Thank you.