Join us at Everyday Law as we discuss Identity Theft with Assistant States Attorney Scott Turk! How can you prevent it? What should you do if it happens to you? Tune in to learn more about this fascinating (and scary!) topic.

Scott Turk is an assistant state’s attorney with the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office. He works in the Cyber/White Collar Crime Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office. That division investigates and prosecutes crimes such as identity theft, unlawful use of credit cards, exploitation of the elderly, money laundering and home repair, bank and loan fraud. Turk outlines what you can do to prevent identity theft and what you should do if you become a victim of identity fraud.

Turk’s original ambition was to become a doctor and worked as an EMT (emergency medical technician) while a student at the University of Illinois. Midway through college, he changed course and focused on computer science; graduating with a double major in computer science and accounting. He worked as a software developer for approximately 11 years before deciding to go to law school. Turk was initially interested in patent law and passed the Patent Bar Exam while in law school, and became a Patent agent. However, an internship at the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office kindled an interest in prosecuting. Upon passing the Illinois Bar exam, Turk accepted a position as a prosecutor in Lake County.

Turk worked in a variety of divisions in the State’s Attorney’s Office including traffic, misdemeanors, juvenile, felony review, felony traffic and felony drug cases. Under the management of Mike Nerheim, new divisions were created including the Cyber/White Collar Crime Unit. Turk handles cases in that unit, but also occasionally handles trials in other divisions. In addition to his job as a prosecutor, Turk is board president of the CYN (Community Youth Network); an organization devoted to providing mental health services. Turk also speaks frequently to different groups about identity theft.

Turk says that it is not a matter of “if”, but “when” a person will become a victim of identity theft. He listed several things that people can do to protect themselves against identity theft, including:

• Do not carry your social security card on your person or wallet. In fact, it is best to put it in a safety deposit box;
• For those age 65 and over, keep your Medicare card secure;
• Keep tax returns secure. Tax returns stored on a computer should be password-protected.;
• For users of credit cards, be wary of skimmer devices and using public WIFI hotspots where personal data can be stolen. It is best to only do online banking out of your home or using your own cellular network;
• Be wary of emails soliciting personal data (such as the Nigerian prince or Jamaican lottery scams);
• Monitor both your credit card statements and your credit report on a regular basis;
• Shred any junk mail with personal information with a cross-cut shredder;
• Be vigilant of scams that prey on elderly loved ones such as the “grandparent scam” (someone claiming to be a grandchild calls and asks for money to make bail). Be vigilant with the personal information of elderly loved ones;
• Check and change credentials and passwords frequently and set up credit card alerts for purchases above a certain amount;
• Be vigilant about protecting and releasing any personal, identifying information.

If you become a victim of identity theft, it is important to contact the agency where that theft occurred such as a bank or credit card company. That agency will send you a form to fill out and cancel your card to stop future purchases. It is also advisable not to use your debit card as a credit card as in the case of debit card fraud, you have less time to report fraud (30 days) than with a credit card (60 days). Victims of identity theft should also contact the police. Doing so may result in the arrest of the offender, or help establish a pattern with other similar crimes.

Turk also cautioned that financial crimes cannot always be prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s Office. Some white-collar crimes involve a civil or contract aspect to them such as the case of a fraudulent home repair. It can be difficult to prove intent to defraud beyond a reasonable doubt and a civil lawsuit may be the only recourse.