Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Help Me Howard: ID
If a crook asked you for your name, Date of birth and social security you would laugh at him. But when the government takes, it we don't say a word. However, in the last few months, two laptops owned by the government have been stolen by thieves - laptops with your confidential information. Now it's in the hands of crooks and one man is asking, 'is Uncle Sam responsible if my credit is ruined?' Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser has the answer.
WSVN--Dinnertime is daddy-daughter time at the O'Conner house.
Amanda: "I will get the tomatoes."
Patrick works full time and goes to school much of the time, so he treasures any time he gets with the adoreable Amanda.
Amanda: "Thanks, daddy."
Patrick O'Connor: "You're welcome sweet Pea."
To make sure she has the best is one reason Patrick works so hard. And that's why he was so upset when he saw the news about another government laptop being stolen.
Patrick O'Connor: "Anger, disbelief."
In July, a United State Department of Transportation employee left a laptop in his SUV while he ate lunch in this restaurant.
Inside the laptop was the name, date of birth, social security number and addreses for 133,000 South Floridians.
Including people with a commerical drivers license, like Patrick
Patrick O'Connor: "Why is an employee walking around with that sensitive information in these technological times and not keeping track of it."
Even worse, the Department of Transportation waited five days before reporting it. The police officer wrote 'unable to process vehicle due to delay in reporting incident.'
Five days for the thief to do his dirty work.
Patrick O'Connor: "I just didn't believe it."
One reason Patrick is so irritated -- his confidential information was stolen once before.
Patrick O'Connor: "FIU had a hacker obtain student information. Which was personal information. Social Security number date of birth name."
IN THAT CASE THE UNIVERSITY DIDNT NOTIFY HIM TILL SIX MONTHS HAD PASSED..
Patrick O'Connor: "That was scary because that's a long time for something to already have happened."
Since then Patrick has to spend his money and his time to check his credit in case an identity thief strikes.
Patrick O'Connor: "Your credit score is going to go down. You're going to have to spend months even years trying to repair the damage that was done."
Now he has to worry about another attack from another identity theft and is understandably a little tired of government sloppiness with his private information.
Patrick O'Connor: "Is anyone going to be held accountable of I should be a victim of that occurrence? I don't know, but I'd like to know the answer to that."
So Howard, crack the lawbook. Is a government agency responsible for confidential information you trust them with? Or can they say, 'sorry, it was not our fault - it was stolen.'
Howard Finkelstein: "In the eyes of the people who were the victims here, the government is clearly negligent. However, Congress has written laws that protect the government employees but do not protect the taxpayers who are victims. And as a result, if your credit is ruined by this theft and you lose money, you are out of luck."
When Help Me Howard contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation we were told it was a humbling experience for their employee.
That they waited five days to call police because he thought he had misplaced the laptop and was looking for it.
In the meantime, the dot is working with the GSA to determine what credit monitoring service we can provide to the victims of the theft.
Of course there is no guarantee the government will offer anything, so Howard offers a tip to everyone
Howard Finkelstein: "Check your credit. Not just the 133,000 South Floridians who were victims here, but everyone should check their credit reports at least once a year. It's free and if you notice anything suspicious - like credit applications in your name you didn't make - contact the credit bureaus immediately."
Patrick will be doing that for a few more years, and warns, so will alot of other people if the government continues to lose confidential information.
Patrick O'Connor: "Here I am trying to protect my information from anybody that's gathering it. At the same time these government agencies or institutions are feeding my information to the wolves. To the cyber wolves."
Patrick Fraser: "And the government keeps doing it. The D.O.T. told me another laptop with confidential information was stolen in April. They waited till now to reveal it.
"To protect yourself in case your confidential information is in some crooks lap, and to determine how to get free credit reports go to ftc.gov.
"And by the way the government is careful about the identity...Of their own in the police report on the stolen laptop everything about the dot employee is blacked out. Police were told to do it because he was working undercover. One hundred and thirty-three thousand South Floridians wish the government would be as careful with their information."
A top secret story simmering in your lap? Tired of keeping it confidential? Contact us. We will help you expose it.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Federal Trade Commission