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Identity Theft Council launches in Bay Area

Grassroots group helps train volunteers to counsel identity fraud victims.

Neal O'Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council
Neal O'Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council

Victims of identity fraud should now have some extra help in the San Francisco Bay Area with a new grassroots organization, the Identity Theft Council.

The Identity Theft Council, which launched last week, is training volunteers at banks, credit unions, schools, law enforcement groups, and other organizations to work with consumers who have had their Social Security number, financial data, or other sensitive information pilfered. Theft of such information puts people at risk of having their names used for identity fraud.

"This is a neighborhood watch for the 21st century," Neal O'Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council, told CNET. "We're trying to harness all the resources available in small, individual communities...and help victims, as well as build better awareness."

The effort started at the beginning of the year when the Hayward Police Department asked for help in counseling victims of identity fraud, he said. Since then, the effort has expanded to 15 other counties, and two dozen cities and police departments, including San Francisco.

"It's something we did in Walnut Creek (Calif.) seven years ago," O'Farrell said, adding that that pre-dates the Securing Our eCity initiative for security awareness, which started in San Diego two years ago.

Nearly 50 organizations are involved, including police, sheriff's departments, district attorneys, and dozens of individual volunteers, according to O'Farrell. For example, 20 workers from Patelco Credit Union are being trained to counsel identity fraud victims.

Victims are referred to the Identity Theft Council by local police or the FBI and then are assigned a counselor. Anywhere from 5 to 10 victims are referred to the group each week, O'Farrell said.

Victims are informed of their rights and what they should do to clear their names and protect their accounts, such as get copies of credit reports. The group can also help intervene on the behalf of victims by contacting creditors and alerting authorities to the matter.

Founding partners include Intersections, the Identity Theft Assistance Center, the Better Business Bureau, the Online Trust Alliance, Elder Financial Protection Network, and the Independent Community Bankers of America.

The goal is to grow the movement nationwide, one community at a time, O'Farrell said.