Over the last several years you keep hearing again and again how important it is to protect your identity otherwise someone may steal your identity and cause you all sorts of problems, both financially and otherwise. Unfortunately, the very people that we pay to protect us are much more careless about important aspects of our identity than we are.
If you have ever had a police officer ask for your identification so that he could verify who you were, you have just given identity thieves everything they need to steal your very identity.
There are four key items that are necessary for an identity thief to do his "magic" and transform himself into you. Those items are: a.) your name, b.) your date of birth, c.) your Social Security Number, and d.) your Drivers License number. And these four pieces of information are exactly what your friendly police officer gives out to the general public every day.
Over the past few days I have been monitoring the Honolulu Police Department radio transmissions on my scanner specifically listening for this key information. In less than one week I was able to write down the four key pieces of identifying information for over 50 people. That is over 50 citizens that have had their personal identifying information publicized for anyone to copy down, without them even realizing that everyone was listening to it.
Luckily for those citizens, I am not a criminal trying to steal their identities, but if I were, the Honolulu Police Department gave me everything that I need to do it.
This was not a fluke, this is a daily occurance with our police departments across the country. They themselves warn you of the risks of identity theft, and then they so casually publicise your information without giving it a second thought. Every day I hear unsuspecting people's personally identifying information sent out over the radio.
In 2011, just over 12 Million American's were victims of identity theft. It happens to approximately 19 people each and every minute.
I became aware of how bad this situation is several years ago when my own identity was stolen. We later found out that this was exactly how it happened. The criminal that stole my identity and applied for several credit cards in my name got my information from listening to the local police department on his scanner and wrote down my information that the police department broadcast over their radios when I was involved in a traffic accident with a hit and run driver.
Anyone can be monitoring these frequencies with a scanner purchased online or, depending on the department, they may even be able to listen to the broadcasts online through websites like Broadcastify.
Criminals have access to your personal information, and it is the police that are giving it to them, but remember, they are giving the criminals your personal information so that the the friendly police officer can better protect you.
And if you think it's only criminals whose identifying information is being broadcast for anyone in the public to listen to, you are sadly mistaken. Police officers have the mistaken belief that anyone they come into contact with is required to identify themselves to the officer simply because they made contact with you and they asked you to identify yourself. This is simply not what the law says.
In Hawaii, as in most other states in the country, you are only required to identify yourself to a police officer under two circumstances. First, if you are operating a motor vehicle and the officer pulled you over for committing a traffic offense. Secondly, if you are placed under arrest for committing a crime. Not if you are merely suspected of committing a crime, you are only required to identify yourself once you are placed under arrest for committing a crime. No, you can not be charged with "failure to identify" for not providing your identification if you have not been placed under arrest. I have been threatened with this false statement by police officers more times than I can count, and not once have I ever given them my identification, nor have I ever been charged with a crime for not doing so. This is a fear-tactic that they use to intimidate uninformed people into just doing what they say and giving them their identification.
If you give false identifying information, you can be charged with a crime, but not simply for refusing to identify yourself if you have not already been placed under arrest.
You have no legal obligation to identify yourself merely to apeze an officers curiosity or to assist them with their investigation, and doing so puts you at risk of becomming another statistic in the ongoing battle against identity theft.
You should hear the "crimes" that the Honolulu Police Department are using as justification to broadcast people's personal identification over the radio. A neighbor called in on someone because a person walked down their street on the sidewalk that they did not recognize. Someone else called the police on someone because they were tired and sat down on the sidewalk to rest. Those blatent criminals, surely they deserve to have someone steal their identities for committing those heinous acts.
Police department radio frequencies are not secured, and legally, they can not be secured. The airwaves do not belong to anyone. Any citizen has the legal right to listen to anything being transmitted over radio frequencies.
The Honolulu Police Department is under the mistaken impression that their radio tranmissions are secure because they are using a P25 digital system for their radios. The only thing that means is that it cost me an extra $25 to buy a digital license key to program into my scanner to decode their transmissions with, which any 12 year old could figure out how to do.
Unfortunately by using this digital system, and having the mistaking belief that their transmissions are secure from the public, they are even more lax in their security protocols than many other departments across the country are.
Personal identifying information like this should NEVER, EVER be broadcast over the radio. The city has spent so much of our tax dollars on computer systems and the laptops that are in every single police car. If the computers were used instead of the radios for transmitting our personal information, it would make it much harder for criminals to obtain this information, thereby protecting us from identity theft.
The next time a police officer asks for your identification, you might want to think twice about just handing it over, especially in a situation where you are not operating a motor vehicle and when you have no obligation to provide it because you have not been placed under arrest. Remember, your identifying information will be broadcast over their radio for me and everyone else to hear.
Until Next Time,
Aloha & 73