SIERRA VISTA - Arizona is the No. 1 state for identity theft, and it is only going to get worse, according to a national personal security expert.
The event at Buena High School was sponsored by the Greater Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce, Fidelity National Title and the National Bank of Arizona.
"Identity theft has become a major issue and it will get worse," Siciliano said. "One of the main issues why it is such a problem is because of the speed of technology, which has outpaced the security necessary to keep a person's personal information safe. The biggest hurdle is education and awareness, which is the aim of this program."
More than 10 million people in the United States were affected by identity theft last year, amounting to $48 billion being lost by businesses and financial institutions.
Around $6,700 is obtained on average from each victim, who will then go on to incur about $1,100 in out-of-pocket expenses. It can then take at least 175 hours for one person to work on the process of cleaning up their good name, although it can take a year for a person's records to be cleared.
"Although, 25 percent of victims never fully clear their name," Siciliano said.
Stolen identities are used, 42 percent of the time, to access or create credit card accounts.
Twenty percent of criminals use stolen identities to commit telephone or utility fraud, 13 percent to access or create bank accounts, 9 percent to gain employment, 7 percent to obtain loans, and 6 percent to obtain documents such as a driver's license, Social Security card or government benefits.
"Many people don't think it will happen to them, so they don't do enough to protect themselves," Siciliano said. "But it can happen to you."
One of the most common ways for a thief to obtain information is via the Internet, which contains a wealth of personal details, from birth and marriage certificates to real estate deeds and Social Security numbers.
To demonstrate the ease of finding such information, Siciliano pulled up the personal information, including Social Security numbers of Jeb Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Porter Goss, the former director of the CIA.
"At any given time anyone can become anyone because technology has made it so easy," he said.
There are a number of ways a thief can obtain your personal information, which include stealing mail, going through trash, stealing from a person's home or wallet, by taking details from the telephone book, public records or a license plate, via Internet hacking, intercepting cordless or cellular calls, or if they have a similar name.
"Hackers have access to more than 300 different software programs to sniff out unprotected networks," Siciliano said. "They create viruses and spyware to allow them back-door access."
At the end of the seminar, however, Siciliano told the audience they should not leave feeling unnerved or frightened.
"Take this information and allow it to empower you," he said. "You are in the best position to protect yourself."