SOUTH BEND — When Mary Johnson asked how many present had experienced identity theft, people seemed uncertain how to respond.
But once the U.S. postal inspector explained that theft includes any incident in which personal information is leaked like in the Target or Anthem data breaches, nearly everyone’s hand went up.
She wasn’t surprised.
For more than an hour, she and Toi Houston, an assistant U.S. attorney, talked about the latest scams and ways people can protect themselves in a presentation this week at the South Bend Police Department. They used specific examples and cases to show how easy it is for personal information to spread to the wrong sources.
The presentation was enlightening and beneficial, said Pam Mathews, of South Bend, who was present. “More so, because they gave us strategic ways to place barriers against identity theft.”
Mathews planned to go home, review her online presence and remove some information from her Facebook page. She talked about other suggestions she liked including shredding all mail that contains personal data; carefully reading bank statements and inspecting her credit report regularly; and safeguarding Social Security numbers by writing only the last four digits on medical or other forms that don’t really require the information.
Centier Bank set up the presentation because identity theft affects everyone and the bank wants to help people be proactive about safeguarding their information and accounts.
“We’re just trying to get the discussion started,” said Sheila Sieradzki, vice president of business banking in Elkhart. “Identity theft is a topic that requires constant dialogue and learning in order to stay ahead of fraudsters. It touches everybody in one way or another.”
She’s heard from both individuals and businesses who have dealt with fraud or scams. It’s amazing how many people have a personal story or a story of someone they’re close to who has been affected, she said. The bank wants to be a resource that can help people affected by identity theft go through the process of fixing it.
The bank has offered other financial literacy events and Sieradzki has taught some senior scam classes for the Council on Aging. Centier’s Elkhart and Mishawaka branches also have identity theft information available for anyone who wants it and staff who can help people understand their credit reports.
“It’s not a matter of if you will be a victim, but when,” she said. “The best thing to do is to come in and get help.”
It’s also important for people to know that if they are affected by a scam or identity theft, they should report it, said Dian Reyome, financial capabilities and Community Reinvestment Act officer for the bank. The Indiana attorney general keeps track of complaints, and Indiana police are required by state law to file a report. The Federal Trade Commission also lists on its website,IdentityTheft.gov, steps to take after information is stolen.
“So many people think if your identity is stolen, that you are in world of trouble and nobody’s going to help you,” she said. “There is help out there for you.”