The case of Mia Garza, who criminally breached personal data belonging to 29,500 Northern California Kaiser Permanente employees, and stole the identities of at least 400 people, should be a wake-up call to all Californians that we must do more to crack down on identity theft.
As former General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer for Facebook, I have worked side by side with Attorneys General in all 50 states to develop safeguards against all kinds of online predators and identity thieves. The fact is we need tougher laws on the books and more trained law enforcement officers to handle the growing number of identity theft cases in Sacramento and all over California.
Last month, I visited the Sacramento High Tech Crimes Task Force, the same unit that arrested Garza and helped provide the evidence to put her in jail. The Task Force also busted open an identity-theft ring, linking Garza with at least 20 criminal associates who appear to be using the stolen Kaiser information. Without this important information provided by the Task Force, Garza and her criminal associates could still be breaching the personal information of hundreds, if not thousands, of unsuspecting victims. She even stole identities and committed crimes while wearing an ankle bracelet that tracked her every move.
The sad fact is, there are hundreds of criminals out there just like Garza, victimizing law-abiding citizens, whose lives will be turned upside-down in an instant. Most identity theft victims spend countless hours over several years trying to reverse the damage done by these thieves. Criminals like Garza are brazen because they feel that there are little-to-no consequences for their actions – and until we take serious action to stop them, we’re all vulnerable to their attacks.
So – what can be done? We can start with simple techniques that don’t cost much, like standardizing how identity theft crimes are reported, making it easier to spot patterns and target law enforcement efforts at rings like Garza’s. We can do better by adequately funding effective resources like the High Tech Crimes Task Force, so that the highly-skilled detectives and law enforcement can investigate all of the pertinent cases that come in the door.
It’s also important to empower citizens to avoid becoming victims of crime by improving public awareness about where and how crimes happen in our communities, and online.
Though there was nothing Garza’s victims could do to prevent her attacks, there are basic steps many of us can take to protect our identity. Some of those include: Put passwords on all your accounts and do not use your mother’s maiden name; Close or cancel credit cards that you have not used in 6 months or more; Get credit cards and business cards with your picture on them; Review your credit report regularly.And government needs to do more to protect our citizens these crimes, as well. I recently released a policy paper: “Innovation First: Using Technology to Fight Crime” calling for: 1) Enhanced forensics technology for complex crime scene investigation and analysis; 2) A standardized crime mapping system across California to help local law enforcement agencies form strategic partnerships, including building cross jurisdictional and regional crime analysis information-sharing systems; 3) Implementation of a Global Positioning System (GPS) Monitoring System to improve supervision of high-risk parolees; 4) Aggressive prevention and punitive actions toward crimes related to consumer fraud, identity theft, and online sexual predators; and 5) Updated computer systems that accurately track criminal activity, collect crime data, and improve legal services while saving taxpayers millions of dollars for Californians.
Working together, we can find innovative solutions like these to reduce crime. We just can’t stand by as criminals like Mia Garza ruin the lives of our friends and neighbors – it’s time for us all to take a stand.