Columns

Obviously, Jack Latvala Never Had His Identity Stolen

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: February 15, 2012 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ
Seems odd to me why a Florida senator would want to continue a system that exposes thousands of Floridians to identity theft. But Jack Latvala is sticking to Florida's turkey of a law like a cheap suit in the rain.

Come on, Senator. Florida is the only state in the nation that allows the distribution of Social Security numbers to third parties -- and all to find owners of unclaimed property. Have a look at Kenric Ward's Feb. 14 story.

SB 1208 and companion HB 7111 probably are the most consumer-friendly bills among all of the 2012 session's legislation. They would stop Social Security number handouts cold.

If Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, had ever been a victim of identity theft himself, he wouldn't be fighting SB 1208 now. He would, like Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, want to protect people's confidential information, and pull the plug on the ability of private investigators to tap into the state's Social Security database for $35 a month.

Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. I've had my identity stolen.

Perhaps Latvala has Social Security cards confused with credit cards. Big difference.

Lose your credit card and all you have to do is quick-cancel the old one, wait for the bank to issue you a new one and abracadabra, you're in the clear. But when your Social Security number has been compromised, it's compromised forever. The feds don't issue you a second number. You'll be monitoring that baby for the rest of your life.

You've got five things to worry about if a thief gets hold of your number.
  1. He can open new credit, sign up for utilities, get a mortgage or car loan in your name. That’s right. Identity thieves never pay on the accounts they open. They spend like drunken sailors until the unpaid accounts go into collections and creditors begin coming after the real you -- ask me how I know.
  2. A thief can use your name to get a job, then fail to pay taxes on earnings. But his employer reports the earnings to the IRS using the Social Security number on file. In many cases the legitimate tax refunds earned by identity theft victims are withheld to pay “unpaid taxes on unreported income.” If no refund was due, the victim will receive a bill for unpaid taxes from the IRS.
  3. Armed with your name and Social Security number, identity thieves are able to obtain identification documents like drivers’ licenses or passports. If they engage in other criminal activity and are caught, their bad behavior can go on your record. Oh, yes, and if this rap sheet is discovered, you could be arrested or fired from your job due to a criminal history you didn’t create.
  4. With your Social Security number in his wallet, someone can obtain medical care in your name. This is scary, life-threatening stuff. Apart from skipping out on medical bills run up in your name, a thief can leave you with a completely incorrect medical record, a record with wrong information about blood type, drug allergies and procedures you've had done. You could be administered the wrong drugs or blood type.
  5. You could wind up having your wages garnished to pay someone else’s alimony or child support or being penalized for his or her bankruptcy. A huge nightmare, this one. This is especially common in cases where the identity thief has stolen not only your Social Security number, but your name as well. If someone files bankruptcy in your name, your credit record could also be destroyed due to the negative impact of the filing. And you may lose credit that has been extended to you or be forced to pay higher interest rates.
It's disappointing to see Latvala, a Republican, doing the bidding of private investigators who may or may not be gathering Social Security numbers for the purpose for which the system was intended.

It's the Department of Financial Services that maintains the Social Security number database. Some 178 "locator" agencies have registered with DFS and pay the $35 a month to fish around for numbers. But only 58 of them have actually filed for unclaimed property. What are the other 120 agencies doing with access to those numbers?

Latvala has a compromise amendment that is no compromise at all. He proposes the state issue only partial Social Security numbers to private investigators. But there's available software out there to identify owners of Social Security numbers from the first five or the last four numbers. How would that close the door on identity and financial fraud?

Latvala was in meetings all day Tuesday and unavailable each time I phoned. I'm sorry about that, too. I had questions.

I think it's time for him to come clean and remind us why he's willing to keep thousands of Floridians at great risk.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com, or at (850) 727-0859.








Comments (12)

Jimmy Allen, CFE, CPA
4:36PM FEB 21ST 2012
Extremist thought is so disturbing and, more often than not, destructive. Typical though, of modern society. I'm not sure that prescribing to a "black or white" paradigm will ever produce anything beyond blather. But hey, it's what the people want.

Those in the know on matter understand that the personal data of millions of Floridians is held by countless companies who maintain sufficient internal control to protect that data. To suggest that the licensed PROFESSIONALS (i.e., CPA's, Attorneys, and PI's) are not capable of providing a secure environment for this sensitive data is unfounded and simply not true.

Yes, the data needs to be proven secure, I agree with that wholeheartedly. But, you do not end an entire industry just because there is a concern that needs to be addressed! Take a deep breath, think about what I'm saying, and then re-write your article.

Balance, thoughtfulness, reasonableness, objectivity, etc., etc., etc...
Neal Harvey
8:38PM FEB 15TH 2012
I think both articles (Ward and Smith) miss the point. A balanced analysis would start by admitting two things:

First, the holders of unclaimed funds (banks, insurance companies, brokerages, etc.) do not have the time, resources, or motive to seek out the owners of these funds. The state has attempted to remedy this self-evident problem by setting up the BUP and providing mechanisms for both the state and private enterprise to reunite owners and their property.

Second, the efforts of legitimate search firms result in the completion of many claims which would otherwise never have been made. The numbers are very significant, and one must first decide whether this is right or wrong.

This issue is not necessarily illuminated by the experiences of the 75% of claimants who were willing and able to handle their own claims. In my experience, about half of all claims we assist require legal work: most often with probate, but often with far more complex actions. The 25% of claimants who use servicers include a great many who are simply unable to manage the complexity, and many more who chose not to spend their time managing the legal processes.

To set the record straight, our firm always makes its clients aware of their option to handle the claims themselves.

We believe in the service we provide, and are proud of how we do it. We do not mislead our clients, and we do not charge an unfair price for what we do. Some of our clients are attorneys. When knowledgeable clients choose us when they have other options, we think it says something good about our business.

The proponents of SB 1208 are advocating removing a key tool for legitimate servicers to prove their claims. In justification, they cite the 120 persons/firms who get the data and do no file claims. I ask, why does the state continue to give these firms the sensitive data? SB 1208 will result in fewer funds being returned to their owners. We should solve the problem, not create another.

DFS is correct to assert the reasonable expectation of privacy that all citizens have. It is also correct to denounce fraud. And it has the right and duty to take reasonable measures to ensure privacy. But it also must weigh the moral hazard inherent in the BUP: All funds which do not "find" their owners are taken by the state.

Social Security numbers are private. But they are used. Every buyer or maker of loans (troubled or not) gains the SSNs of each borrower. Every broker of loans, every bank, every tax preparer, every credit card issuer, every broker, every title company, every employer... they all have access. And this ignores the legions of government employees with access. We need to prevent abuse in all of these cases. But perfection is not the right goal. We would not think of putting all users of SSNs out of business.

As someone who works in the field, I will add that I am amazed that DFS would assert that SSNs are unimportant and marginalized by the web. Such a claim is so incorrect and self-serving that it defies credulity.

Jack Latvala should be lauded for the courage to be the lone questioning voice in a sea of persons whose analysis does not seem not to go far beyond the concepts that privacy is good and fraud is bad.
Randy Hotz
11:55AM FEB 15TH 2012
Senator Latvala supports amendments to the bills that strike a sensible balance between the benefits and risks of information sharing that in fact benefit unclaimed property owners everday.

He has proposes that the Department of Finacnical Services assign an activity status to claimant's representative. Those who have not filed claims within 90-days would lose access priviledges and he has purposed partial social security number disclosure in a manner consistant with the Internal Revenue Service.

The probility of a person being harmed while driving to work today is far greater than the probability that someones identity will be stolen under the amended scheme Senator Latvala proposes.

I suspect you would not advocate banning access to roads and highways to eliminate the risks of driving in spite of the benefits, as you are doing with this issue.

I took a journalism course in college, objectiviy is the standard taught. You have the email addresses of people who could interview to get a balanced view of the debate and report both sides of it.

We live in an open information society because its clear that the overall benefits of openess outweigh the risk. Let's not overlook all of the good information sharing provides and work together to reasonably reduce risk - we can acheive both.
Tori Blute
10:54AM FEB 15TH 2012
Your organization really dislikes Jack, don’t they?

But besides that, I want to address the fundamental error on which you base your article: You make an assumption that registered locators are criminals and intend to do you harm, armed with your social security number.

The truth is so blindly obvious; I cannot believe your editor will allow you to print material like this. We are licensed professionals held accountable for our actions. We are ethical people who help Floridians get back their own money, held by the State who makes little attempt to inform you of such monies. We cannot do this if we don’t know who these Floridians are. Coincidentally, we already have access to every citizen’s SS number through our various databases, who, by the way, do a thorough screening of each of us before selling their databases. If we were to use SSNs for nefarious purposes, we don’t need the State’s list for that. We do need it to ID the owner and put the money back into their hands.

When was the last time you gave out your SSN? At your doctor’s office? I wonder if the receptionist making minimum wage is held to the same standard as the licensed professionals who offer a desperately needed service. (google it if you don’t believe it happens, since i cannot post links as sources of my own). How about to your insurance company? I wonder if the telemarketer has ever written down a number and taken it outside of work and used it to hurt an individual… Wait, no I don’t… It even happens with the employees of the SSA. The State has no information to show that any disk got into the wrong hands or that any locator was responsible for identity theft.


Your second error is to assume that all 178 locators receive a disc each month. They don’t. The State would lead you to believe this in their presentation to the committee last week, but they have yet to release the ACTUAL number of discs released to registered locators last year. I would imagine it’s because the numbers are nowhere near what they want you to believe. Take the locator who posted on the other article you referenced, saying he ordered one disc, filed one claim, saw how impossible it is, and is now leaving the industry. Or even my attorney, who was forced to register at the State website as a registered locator. She has never bought a disc and never logged onto the website.

As for preventing ID theft, if a person is concerned their information is out for the taking, there are steps to prevent it. First, you can “freeze” your credit report with each of the three bureaus. This prevents anyone from taking credit out in your name when a credit report is required as part of the application process.

Instead of harassing a legislator who is trying to keep putting money back into the hands of its rightful owners, maybe you should offer information on preventing ID theft.
Jim B.
11:54AM FEB 15TH 2012
Tori, you have one fundamental error in your reasoning. That is that you or anyone else has a right to any Social Security number. That number belongs to the individual and no one has the right to give it to anyone else. including all of the honest hard working investigators in this state. Cough.
Tori Blute
12:42PM FEB 15TH 2012
Directly from the SSA website:

"Provide your Social Security number to your financial institution(s)..." Those financial institutions then use your SSN to identify you. Don't have your account number? Just tell the banker your SSN and they will find your account. Then they provide this information to the State so that the correct owner can be located.

From a NY Times article in 2010 "...Congress has repeatedly authorized new uses of the number, requiring people to disclose their number to get welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, Government loans and other Federal benefits..." The government is currently using it as an identifier, even though that was not its intention.

Intentions - isn't there a saying about them?

The fact is that the SSN is an identifier, whether intended or not. Even congress says it is.

Check out the freedom of information act, it makes for a great read, and as already mentioned in a previous response to the other article, it gives access to SS info on deceased individuals to anyone. The number isn't as private as you think.

Now back to work. This hard working, honest investigator has more money to give back to its rightful owners.
Bill C.
2:37PM FEB 15TH 2012
Financial Institutions send your earnings from money markets, savings and checking accounts as well as retirement funds to the IRS. Thus the reason for the SS number. Pull out any card during the 70's or 80's and read it.

The problem is WE have allowed this to happen. Once again YOU have no right to my personal information including my SS number.
Jim B.
9:50AM FEB 15TH 2012
Get ready Nancy for the dozens of "honest" private investigators to challenge you here on this page. The bottom line is this, your Social Card is not to be used as identification. It is stated on the older cards as Jack Latvala should have one given that he is old enough to actually read.

In this electronic age there is no reason for anyone trying to do a search to need a SS#. If they do then quite simply they are lazy.

I am also amazed at the sheer number of so called private investigators and would support a bill to toughen standards on these individuals to obtain a license. The remind me of lobbyist in that they are sneaking out of every crack in Tallahassee.
Tori Blute
10:51AM FEB 15TH 2012
I am disappointed that you think anyone in our industry is dishonest or a criminal. I would like to see your proof. Or are you just basing your opinions on emotions for an industry you do not understand?
Jim B.
11:57AM FEB 15TH 2012
So EVERYONE in your industry is honest? Please share with the rest of the world how you managed to do that as there is not a single industry in the world where all their members are honest. Yours is the first. I never said you were all dishonest and never implied it either. All it takes is one or two to destroy an individuals life.
Tori Blute
12:27PM FEB 15TH 2012
I asked you for proof that anyone in our industry has used someone's SSN in a nefarious way. You dont have any because there is none.

By your same reasoning, we should take away everyone's driver's license because people drink and drive. Maybe we should reenact prohibition, because surely a life is worth more than just protecting someone's identity?

Why don't we punish the offenders and let everyone else continue doing their job. Currently, there are no offenders to punish. That is why.
Pat Traylor
9:20AM FEB 15TH 2012
Why not ask the professionals some questions. I am available to speak to you regarding the other side. You may also want to contact reporter Kenric Ward who has information in his hands that rebutts what was given to the senators by the Department. Again, this is one-sided reporting and very disappointing. Please read yesterday's responses to Kenric Ward's article. What happened to listening to both sides and checking your sources to see if they are telling the truth. Why not ask the department to furnish you with the people who purchased disks last year and the number of times they purchased them. If what the department says is true, then they would have collected about $75,000 in disk fees? Check to see how much they really collected. You might be surprised.

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