If upon hearing the phrase "identity theft," your first thought is, "Oh, crap!" You are not alone. While the topic of identity theft can evoke feelings of overwhelming dread, there are accessible resources out there if you find yourself a victim of identity theft as well as steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of having your identity stolen. We invited Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, ITRC for short, on to talk to us about identity theft, and explain how the ITRC, through a host of accessible resources, can help us be proactive and responsible about ensuring that our identity is ours and ours alone.
To learn more about the ITRC, visit their web site at https://www.idtheftcenter.org/
A full text transcript of this episode can be found at https://pennyforward.com/accessible-resources-to-prevent-identity-theft/
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Eva: When someone other than you uses your identity information to monetize it, get goods or services, or simply act like you, that's an identity crime.
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Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time.
Liz: I'm Liz Botner.
Chris: And I'm Chris Peterson.
Liz: We are blind people, learning what it takes to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.
Liz: If upon hearing the phrase "identity theft," your first thought is, "Oh, crap!" You are no doubt not alone. While the topic of identity theft can evoke feelings of overwhelming dread, there are resources out there if you find yourself in the position of "victim of identity theft," as well as steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of having your identity stolen. Chris and I invited Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, ITRC for short, on to the show to talk to us about identity theft, and explain how the ITRC, through a host of accessible resources, can help us be proactive and responsible about ensuring that our identity is ours, and remains ours alone.
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Now, let's get started.
Liz: Hey, Eva. Thanks for being here.
Eva: I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Liz: Sure. Of course. SO, tell us a little bit about yourself, and what got you interested in working in the identity theft resource space.
Eva: Well, it's been an interesting journey, because I actually started my career in law enforcement in 1986. I spent twenty-one years at the San Diego district attorney's office with the last eleven of those years conducting white collar crime, economic crimes, investigations. And at that time, my role was to basically put the pieces of the puzzle together and get the bad guy, who was harming people, and make sure that he couldn't harm anybody else. And what I encountered when I was working with victims of financial crimes, fraud, and consumer issues, was that we really don't have any resources for these folks to help recover. To help put their lives back together. And so you fast forward now, it's been sixteen years since I left the D.A's office, and unfortunately, that hasn't really changed. Law enforcement's role is to investigate, and prosecute, and they don't have a lot of victim services for victims of financial crimes and economic crimes. And so that was how I got very interested in solving that problem. And making sure that we do understand that victims of financial crimes, particularly identity crimes, really do need direct services. They really do need folks to help them along that recovery journey, and not be left to just kind of do this self-directed, web-based, figure this out themselves. And so, when the opportunity opened up nine years ago for me to be the leader at the Identity Theft Resource Center, boy, I jumped at the chance.
Chris: So for those who don't know, 'cause we hear the term a lot I think in the media, but I don't know that we necessarily know what it means. What do we mean by the term "identity theft" or identity crime?
Eva: That sounds like a simple question, but it actually has a somewhat complicated answer. And "identity theft" is the legal term, and it's how all of the laws are written, when someone uses your data, your PII, which stands for personally identifiable information, or your identity credential’s, so all of those things, different names but they all kind of mean the same thing, and when I say "identity credentials," I mean things like your social security number. Your driver's license number. A pass port number. Even biometrics. You know, your likeness. Your fingerprints. User names and passwords. Those are all identity credentials. But when you talk about identity theft vs. identity fraud, or identity crimes and compromise, they actually are two different things. And the theft piece, or the compromise piece, is when that data is exposed, or taken. So in the terms of a ... Let's just use a scam as an example. A scammer calls you and you accidentally give them your social security number, or your bank account information because you don't realize that you're not talking to your bank. That's the theft. That's the compromise. Now, a couple of days later, when you come to find out that they've gone in and drained your bank account, that's the fraud. When the Actual misuse of those identity credentials occurs. But the broad, broad definition is, when someone other than you uses your identity information to monetize it, get goods or services, or simply act like you, that's an identity crime.
Liz: You've kind of touched on this a little bit, but in terms of the Identity Theft Resource Center, what exactly is it? What sorts of things, where someone contacts the center, will they find in doing so?
Eva: Well, the Identity Theft Resource Center, which we affectionately call the ITRC, 'cause we have such a long name, we are a 501 C 3 charity organization. And so we provide our services at absolutely no cost to the public. And we look at the identity crimes and compromise issue from both ends of the spectrum. So not only, if you come and visit us, and contact us, not only can you get help if you are an actual identity theft or identity crime victim, where someone has misused your information, and we will give you a dedicated plan that's tailored specifically to what's happening with you, and we'll hold your hand through the entire process. We'll walk you through how you recover your identity. But we'll also talk to you if you've just, you know, been exposed to the issue. Maybe a friend or a relative has been a victim and you want to know how to better protect yourself. Or maybe you read about a scam in the news or in the media, and you're going, "I ... How do I protect myself? Or what does this actually mean?" You can contact us, and we will give you that expert advice all for free. And you can reach out to us through a variety of platforms. We really try to provide a lot of choices for people. Whatever they're comfortable with. So we have a toll free number, we have live chat on our website, you can send us SMS texts to chat, E-mail us, direct message us on social media, there's just a number of ways that you can get in contact with us. And it runs the gamut from that sort of self-service, looking on the website and getting the information that you'd like, to calling and speaking to an actual person and telling them either what you're looking for or what you need help with.
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Chris: So, I want to go back to this point because it's so important. Who can benefit from ITRC'S services?
Eva: I mean, the reality is, everyone. That's the nice thing about ITRC, is that there are no eligibility criteria to use our services. And we don't focus on one specialty group of people. Like for example, ARP does some great work in this space, but in order to use those services, you have to be a senior citizen. So anyone who is exposed to an issue, or who has discovered that they are a victim of an identity crime, even if they don't know. Even if you're going, "I'm not sure what I'm experiencing. I can tell you what's happening, but I don't know how to categorize it or quantify it." You can reach out to us. So, you know, young and old, involved in social media, heavy online user or not, we have the knowledge and expertise to really help any person who has a United States identity credential. And it doesn't matter where you live. If you’re military, and you're stationed abroad, or even an ex-pat, if you still have your United States ID credentials and you're having an issue with them, we can still help.
Liz: How can people use the services that the ITC provides?
Eva: Well there's a number of ways that they can get in touch with us. I'll focus mostly on the call center. So we have a toll free number, and you can just dial in, and you will speak to an advisor, and you can get your questions answered through that one on one assistance, but we also have some menu items in our interactive voice system that can help other folks and help in a different way. Again, we have the live chat on our website where you can just engage with a live advisor, and ask your questions, and we can point you in the right direction, either give that tailored advice or point you to some blogs or fact sheets, or solutions on the website. And we're very active in social media, so you can follow us on social media and stay on top of the issues. We're putting out newsletters, scam alerts, things like that, and you can also sign up for our newsletter if you would like that information to be incoming and just have it in your inbox. I promise we don't overcommunicate. It comes out about once a month. It's called "In The Loop," and you can just sign up for that, and get that information. So, again, just about any way that you can engage with a device, you can get in touch with us.
Chris: Wow, that's a lot. And we'll include links to those things in the show notes. So, we met because you are doing some work specifically with people who are blind and visually impaired. Tell us about that.
Eva: Well, you know, it has really been a learning journey. And I'll cover kind of two aspects of this. The first one is the direct services that we've implemented. I mentioned our IVR, interactive voice system, that when you call the toll free number, you get this menu. One of the options there is that you can have some of our most requested fact sheets, solutions, and information sheets read to you through this interactive voice system. Now the voice is a little bit robotic, because it's an automated system, but it's very easy, and we've actually here about 1500 users since we made that switch and updated our IVR, about six months ago. So people are choosing to use the platform that way. And the other work that we've been doing has been in the educational space. The risk minimization. just talking, just like we're doing right now. Talking about the issues, what they are, how you can minimize your risk, and, and what to watch out for. And we formed an advisory committee with a group of community members so that they could give me feedback about the structure, the flow, what else did they need, and I learned so much, Chris. In my mind, I was thinking that we would do some tweaks, and that would be fine. It just really wouldn't be that different of an experience. And as we dug really in deep, just learning the difference between screen reader capabilities, and technology, and knowing that you have to set the settings in a certain way to read the headers of an E-mail so you can get the full header and not just the subject, because you want the details, and knowing that the VoiceOver technology on like the IOS platform on iPhones and tablets interacts differently. It doesn't read things verbatim, you know, on the page. And just learning those things has really educated me, and demonstrated to me that we have so much more work to do here, because I see all of this communication from, and I won't name any names of companies. But just from large organizations. You know, fortune 500 companies. Government agencies. Saying, "Yes, we are in compliance and we are accessible." And then I talk to people, our testers who go in and say, "It doesn't work. It's actually _not accessible." And so, I am committed to making the ITRC'S information, materials, and processes as accessible as we possibly can, not by just checking a box, but by actually talking to folks, and saying, "Will you please tell me, did it work for you? How did it work? What else do I need to do? How do we improve this and make this more meaningful so that you can get access to these services and this information?" And I've been really grateful. We got a grant from the Department of Justice Office of Victims of Crime to do this work, and I'm so glad that we did, and we recognized a couple of years ago that this was a place where we needed to make sure people could get the help and the information that they need.
Liz: Related specifically to the learning journey, as you put it, what have either you personally, or has your organization learned through doing the targeted work with the blind and low vision community?
Eva: You know, that's interesting because as I was talking about learning the details, and I do think about screen readers, I think the biggest learning take-away that I personally had, because I've been personally deeply involved in these processes. I have given presentations for decades. I have gone out into the community, I actually enjoy public speaking quite a bit. It's one of the favorite parts of my job. And just learning that I could not do the standard format for our advisory committee. It didn't resonate with them. Speaking for forty-five minutes and then opening up for Q and A for the last fifteen minutes of a sixty-minute presentation, they said "That really doesn't work for us. We need the information in sort of smaller sections. And so we've completely reformatted our educational presentation so that we do, I do ten minutes of talking about a particular topic, and then open up to five-minute Q and A. Then move on to the next subject. Now it's all the same information. It's all the same materials. It's just packaged in a different way that has made it much easier for them to absorb, and engage with, and get their questions answered. So, just learning that these small changes can make such a huge impact has probably been the biggest learning on this journey for me personally. And for the organization, just the training for the call center, and the advisors, learning how to work with different populations and different people with different needs, they have told me, again and again, that it's so rewarding. And it just really makes them feel like we actually are living up to our vision, and our cultural ethos, which is that we help all victims, there's no eligibility criteria to use our services, and we will make sure that you don't have to walk this journey alone, and they just feel like the work we're doing in this space is really the embodiment of that.
Chris: This word probably gets overused, but I would call that inspiring. That's awesome.
Eva: Oh, Thanks, Chris.
(They laugh together.)
Chris: You're welcome. So, let's move on to talking about identity theft then. Before we get into specific questions about identity theft, I'm wondering if you could quickly reiterate what identity theft is, and how somebody might identify that they may have become a victim of it?
Eva: Okay. Let's just walk through a scenario. So, let's talk about credit. Most people know that you can get a credit card. You put in an application, you do it through your bank, there's other credit card issuers, but you just say, "Okay. I want to open a ... a MasterCard, or a Visa card, or an American Express card." And you put in that application, you have to include your identity credentials. Your name. Your date of birth. Your address. Your social security number. Sometimes even other identifying information, like your driver's license number. But the social security number's the critical piece when you're talking about opening a new line of credit. Now if someone else has all of that data about you, and they simply decide to change the address, so that they're the one getting the information, they can apply for that credit card. And when they do that, and they get that credit card, and they run up that bill and max it out, and then walk away, all of a sudden, you could start getting collection notices. You could start seeing, if you pay attention to your credit score, you could start seeing that go down. If you actually actively read your credit reports, you'll see this account on there that you're going, "I never opened that account!" So, that's like a practical example of what a very common form of identity theft can look like. But I also want people to realize that there are so many things that you can do with your identity credentials. Just think about all of the things that you yourself do with them. How you use them in your every-day life. If a bad actor has access to enough of them, they can do all of those same things.
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Liz: If someone may suspect that they are a victim of identity theft, which is a really scary thing to think about, and an overwhelming thing in and of itself, what is the first thing that they should do?
Eva: Okay, at the risk of sounding like this is an advertisement for the ITRC, I do say that the first thing they can do is contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. But if you're just kind of looking at what's going on, what you're experiencing, I would tell people not to panic. Don't panic, you can get help, try to gather as much information as you can about what has happened. So if all of a sudden you see a credit account on your credit report that you didn't open, you can contact that creditor directly. And start to get information about, "When was this received? How did you get this application?" And get that information. But it's very hard to give a blanket sort of response to, you know, "What's the first thing you do when you're a victim?" And that's because it's all so unique. It's such a broad category of crimes, that the first step in one instance may be the tenth step in another instance.
Chris: I'm a big fan, as many people who listen to this podcast know, of planning ahead and being prepared. Are there steps that we can take to protect ourselves from this occurring in the first place?
Eva: There absolutely are. And that's the good news. There are some uniform processes that you can avail yourself of, and, and try to minimize your risk. The biggest one, honestly, is freezing your credit. And I probably sound like a broken record, and your listeners may have heard before, "Ah. Gosh. EVERYBODY, every advocate tells me to freeze my credit. But it is really one of the most robust, proactive steps that a consumer can take to limit their exposure and their risk. Because once your credit is frozen, that's, even if the thieves have your identity credentials, it stops them from accessing your credit report. The lender, if they put in application with a lender, that lender can't access your credit report when it's frozen. And it does take a little bit of work when you are going to open credit yourself, but it's not that hard. It really isn't. It's just such a great, protective tool. And then, I think the other thing to do is just understanding how your identity, and your identity credentials work, and realizing that, "Hey, these are as valuable as my cash in the bank. And I should treat them that way. And I should make sure that I am not giving them out to anyone that asks for them." And that may sound very basic, but the reality is the scammers are good. With fishing E-mails, with scam calls, they can sound very legitimate. They can make themselves look and sound like a government agency. Or a retailer, or a financial institution that you have a trusted relationship with. So the other thing that we always tell people is, you know, "If you did not initiate a contact, and they are asking you for that kind of personal identifying information, don't give it to them. Go back to the source." And the best example I can give is if you get a phone call from ... saying, "This is ... you know, So-and-so with Your Bank, and we think there's an issue with your card. Can you verify your account please?" Just say, "No, no no no, Scammer, I'm not gonna verify my account because I didn't call you." And then you contact your bank in the way that you normally contact them. Whether that's calling a number that's known to you, calling the number on the back of your credit card, logging into your online account, whatever way you usually contact your bank, you can go back to them and say "Hey. Are you trying to get in touch with me?" And nine times out of ten, they're going to say, "No. That wasn't us."
Liz: Is there anything we should know that we haven't asked you?
Eva: Well, there's lots of things, Liz, but I think the biggest thing is, look. This is a very complicated space. And I do think there's still a lot of embarrassment and shame around becoming a victim of either an identity crime but also scams. And I just want people to realize that there is no shame in becoming a victim. It is not your fault. It doesn't mean that you're not capable or competent. Anyone, anyone, CEO'S, executives, on down the line. Anyone. Well educated, not, can fall for a scam. And it's not your fault. Someone lied to you. And seek the help that you need without fear of embarrassment, or shame, or feeling like someone's going to think that you can't take care of your own affairs. And I know that's particularly hard in the senior community. Where they feel like admitting that, "I didn't handle this properly." Or "I believed that caller or that E-mail." Is somehow going to be seen as, "Well, you can't take care of your own affairs anymore." But I just want people to know, don't be ashamed. Get professional advice. I mean after all, if you broke your arm, and you needed help, you wouldn't kick yourself and say "Oh I should have been able to set my arm myself and give myself my own medical care." You'd go to a doctor. You'd get a professional to help you. And they'd give you a plan. And then you'd go home, and you'd have your health management plan and you'd convalesce with their assistance. It's really the same principle. This is a complicated space. You need professional help. Please seek it out.
Chris: Again, all of the information that Eva's about to give is in the show notes, and on
so don't feel like you need to try to get it all written down here if you can go there to look. But Eva, would you give out your contact information?
Eva: Absolutely. So you can reach us at our toll free number at 1-888-400-5530, and our website is
and those are the best ways to get in touch with us. And if you want to live chat with us, you just pop that website into your browser, and the live chat comes up on every screen.
Liz: Thank you, Eva, very very much for speaking with us today, and sharing very, very valuable information. We really appreciate it.
Eva: Oh, it was my pleasure to be here. Thank you both.
Chris: If you enjoy the Penny Forward podcast, please rate, review, and share it with your friends. We're supported by your donations. Please help us to continue producing Penny Forward by following the tip jar link in the show notes, or by visiting
Liz: The Penny forward Podcast is produced by Liz Botner and Chris Peterson. Audio editing and postproduction is provided by Byron Lee, and transcription is provided by Anne Verduin. Music was composed and performed by Andre Loui, and web hosting is provided by Taylor's Accessibility Services.
Chris: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time. Visit
to learn more about who we are, and what we do. Until next time, for all of us in the Penny Forward community, I'm Chris Peterson.
Liz: And I'm Liz Botner. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.