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Identity theft

Editors note: Tim Holloman is the town manager for Columbus. He writes a column for the Bulletin, keeping readers up to date on the happenings in the Town of Columbus.

Residents and Business owners of Columbus: The Columbus Town Council believes in keeping citizens informed and up-to-date. The Council strives to be responsive and to maintain positive relationships with those we serve.

Although incidences of identity theft are dropping, more than 8.4 million adult Americans had their identity compromised in 2007. Identity theft is still a frightening and expensive prospect nationwide – $56.6 billion in 2006 (According to Javelin Strategy & Research Survey, 2007).

The Town of Columbus is working to protect the identity of our residents and customers, and this has led to some changes in the type of information we request and how that information is managed at Town Hall.

In September 2008, the North Carolina League of Municipalities sent a memorandum informing all municipalities with utility accounts that the Federal Trade Commission required an Identity Theft program to be in place by November 1, 2008. This is known as the FTCs Red Flags Rule.

Columbus Town Council approved a resolution, with written procedures, to identify, detect, and to respond to signals of identity theft or Red Flags. All administrative staff has been trained and is required to use these procedures.

The Red Flags Rule defines identity theft as fraud committed using the identifying information of another person and a Red Flag is a pattern, practice, or specific activity that indicates the possible existence of identity theft. Under this rule, the Town is required to identify potential relevant red flags; detect red flags that exist; respond appropriately to red flags to prevent and mitigate identity theft; and update the program periodically to reflect changes in risks to customers or to the safety and soundness of the town from identity theft.

Some of the identifying information specified by the FTC, which must be protected, includes name, address, telephone number, social security number, date of birth, drivers license or ID number, passport number, taxpayer ID number, and more.

The rule identifies potential red flags in the following categories: notifications and warnings from credit reporting agencies; suspicious documents; suspicious personal identifying information; suspicious account activity or unusual use of account; and alerts from others.

This can all sound a bit daunting, but what it means is the Town will be taking steps to insure the correct identify of utility account holders. That is why we request a drivers license or picture ID and a social security number to open a new account. We will verify the identification of customers (in person or by other means of communication) who request information about an account or request to change billing addresses, and we will verify changes in banking information given for billing and payment purposes.

If our staff identifies any red flags, we will take appropriate steps to prevent or mitigate identify theft. These might include: monitor the account for evidence of identity theft; contact the customer; not open a new account; close an account; reopen with a new number; and/or notify law enforcement.

In order to further prevent the likelihood of identity theft occurring in respect to utility accounts, the Town will ensure that our website is secure; ensure complete and secure destruction of paper documents and computer files with customer information; ensure that computers are password protected; ensure computer virus protection is updated; require and keep only the kinds of customer information necessary for utility purposes, and keep required customer information in a secured location.

We ask for your patience if we ask for proof of who you are especially if you call to ask for information over the phone. It may take a little longer to process your request, but it will serve to help protect your identity in the long run. We are as committed to protecting your identity as if it were our own.

The Columbus Town Council meets the third Thursday of every month at 7:00 p.m. in Council Chambers at 95 Walker Street. You are welcome to attend the meetings and let your voice be heard. The Council is always open to comments and suggestions. You can also keep abreast of Town events by visiting our website at www.columbusnc.com.

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