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Q&A: Protecting Personal Information

Sensitive private personal information passes through the hands of Notaries every day and, if not handled properly, the information could be misused by identity theives. The Financial and Corporate Services Section spoke toMichael Gier, identity theft expert and host of the Web TV show “www.ProtectYourself.tv," about emerging trends in ID theft and how Notaries can play their part in combating fraud.

What are some of the emerging trends you are seeing in identity theft? 
There has been an increase in cyber-crimes against businesses that include hacking, network intrusions, malicious software, even account takeovers that lead to significant data breaches. It’s difficult for smaller companies to keep up with the needed security because of the cost involved; and that, in turn, compounds the risk.

What is the biggest piece of advice you offer companies or individuals when it comes to protecting themselves or consumers against identity theft?
It can be costly, but businesses need to spend the money to stay on top of the security of their customers’ personal details — for the sake of their customers and for their own reputation.

For individuals, just because someone asks for your personal information doesn’t mean that you have to give it to them. Only give them what they actually need. For example, if you’re applying for a job, they don’t need your Social Security number unless you get the job, so don’t put it on the application. Be very protective of any information you give out about yourself; if in doubt, leave it off. The more businesses that have your information, the higher the risk of identity theft. Finally, you must shred everything with any personal information on it. Millions still aren’t shredding, and it’s creating opportunities for the thieves.

How should Notaries safe-guard their records or safely dispose of documents or files that contain sensitive information?
The only way to completely safeguard a journal containing personal information is to lock it in a safe. It’s a little time consuming, but the extra safety precaution is beneficial to everyone involved. A lot of theft comes from people you know, so having that information out in the open puts everything at risk.

For those that keep sensitive files on their computer, they need to have layers of security protection making it more difficult for intruders to get the information. They should also regularly update all software that they use, and have malware and spyware protection installed on their computer. Last, wherever they decide to store the information on their computer, they should be sure that there is a code name for the file that isn’t obvious, in case someone should get through.

Do you have any advice on what a Notary should do if they suspect that a signer/client is not who he or she claims to be, or if they suspect the signer is using a fraudulent ID?
Fraud is rampant, and the Notary can help by positively identifying the signer. If there are any red flags that the ID is a fake, then the Notary should get an additional form of identification. The Notary can take the time to learn what features should be on the ID that confirms it is legitimate; this will help them spot a fake ID much easier.

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