CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Experts and victims of identity theft both said it's important for consumers to shred their personal documents to protect sensitive information.
About seven percent of Americans ages 16 and older had their personal information stolen in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that's compared to about one percent of Americans who were victims of violent crime in that same year.
Jim Settecase, a studio engineer at Cleveland 19, was a victim of identity theft in 2015. His information was compromised, along with the information of millions of others, when Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield was hacked in 2015.
He received a letter from the health insurance company stating that his social security number, health information, home address, email, employment history and income data were all compromised in the hack.
He learned hackers had used his stolen information when he tried to file his taxes a few months later.
"When I went to file my taxes through TurboTax, when I hit send it said, 'I'm sorry your return as already been filed.' I'm like no I haven't I'm filing it right now," said Settecase. He reached out to TurboTax who informed him someone had filed his taxes on his behalf – trying to get his tax return. That was just the beginning for what Settecase assumes will be a lifelong battle to keep his identity.
He contacted the Federal Trade Commission, where he found a step by step guide of what to do and how to proceed after identity theft.
Even two years later, Settecase still has the print out of the 50 page guide, saying, "It was my bible." He had to reach out to the Internal Revenue Service, his creditors, check his 401k ... the list goes on and on.
The IRS and the FTC hear about -- and of course, investigate -- hundreds of cases just like Settecase's each year.
In just one year, 2014, the Department of Justice's Department of Justice Statistics estimated nearly 18 million Americans, age 16 and older, were victims of at least one instance of identity theft. Those individual instances could mean something as relatively minor as someone illegally trying to use another person's credit card.
A lot of individual information is grabbed through company data breaches. According to the ID Theft Center, "a non-profit organization established to support victims of identity theft in resolving their cases, and to broaden public education and awareness in the understanding of identity theft," in 2016 there were 1,093 data breaches, exposing 36.6 million records.
Settecase, already a victim of identity theft, said even with all of the risks out there he still thinks it's important to shred important documents.
"I think anything you can do -- I mean there's everything you can do and then there's everything else. In my case, it was the everything else that got me," said Settecase. "You can do the best with what you have control over and that's about it, and you have to pray on the rest."
The acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Maureen Ohlhausen, said the same thing about the importance of destroying personal information on documents.
"That's one of the easiest ways to get someone's account number, social security number, date of birth is just by pulling the paper record," said Ohlhausen. "You don't need to be a genius hacker to get information that way and we do see that there has been harm that way, just from someone's basic personal records being put out in the trash."
Ohlhausen was the keynote speaker Thursday at a Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection conference at Cleveland State University. She said she also thinks consumers need to value and protect their personal information more.
"As we require companies to be reasonable, consumers should be reasonable as well, because there's enormous benefits to consumers but you need to
be safe, you need to be smart you need to be alert and just take reasonable steps," said Ohlhausen. "The best protection is self-protection."
She also said that a data breach doesn't automatically mean that a company is negligent.
"We can't expect companies to take such incredible protections. I think it's too costly for them. Certainly they have to take reasonable precautions, much like we'd expect that a company take reasonable safety precautions for physical safety of consumers," she said. "We don't expect them to build a fortress, we expect them to identify likely threats and to take, you know, cost effective reasonable steps to mitigate those steps."
Before throwing anything away, consumers should shred documents with account numbers, social security numbers anything with personal information.
On April 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. BBB Serving Greater Cleveland and partners, RadAir Complete Car Care and Tire Centers, Cleveland 19 News, Apprisen, and All-Ohio Secure Shred, will host this helpful identity theft prevention event featuring free on-site shredding plus tips to protect your identity.
Bring up to three boxes or bags of sensitive documents for shredding at the RadAir Complete Car Care and Tire Centers at 6221 Som Center Road in Solon and 5350 North Leavitt Road in Lorain.