Saturday, April 12, 2008

Identity Theft: Are You Exposing Your Clients’ Secrets and Confidences? What About Your Own?

As LDAs and paralegals, we are often entrusted with our clients’ sensitive, personal information. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure their privacy, and our own, is protected.

The legal document assistants, paralegals and attorneys who attended privacy expert Mari J. Frank’s LDA educational seminar on April 2 enjoyed an information-packed hour filled with frightening statistics, real-life horror stories, the requirements legal professionals must meet to protect our clients’ privacy, and what we can all do to protect ourselves against identity theft.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, affecting one in five of us, according to the FBI. Unfortunately, only 10% of identity theft complaints investigated, and only 10% of those are prosecuted. The primary identifier – the top prize – for identity thieves is the social security number. As LDAs and paralegals, we must ensure that:

  • We do not collect this information unless it is required in order to serve our clients;

  • We safeguard this information by keeping it in a locked cabinet, limiting access only to those employees who need it to accomplish the task at hand;

  • We only use it to the extent necessary to accomplish the task (e.g. redact all but the last four digits, if possible); and

  • We destroy the information when it is no longer needed.

Under federal law, attorneys and law firms must destroy sensitive employee and client materials before discarding them. We are also prohibited from sending letters to clients that include social security numbers. And, if a colleague or employee picks up our client files and uses the information for identity theft, we could be held liable for the damages. Many LDAs utilize online client intake forms. However, if you use a website to collect personal information from potential clients, you must also have a privacy policy which tells them how to review the information you have collected.

Here are some tips to protect yourself, your business and your clients:

  • Put your photograph on your business card;

  • Only collect sensitive personal data when necessary, limit the amount collected to what is absolutely required, and destroy the information when it is no longer needed;

  • Redact all but the last 4 digits of a social security number whenever possible;

  • Use your bank’s online bill-pay features, if you have anti-spyware software

  • Encrypt sensitive electronic data;

  • Request a regular ATM card, without the Visa or MasterCard logo on it - most bank fraud results from EFT transactions from debit cards;

  • Check credit and consumer profiles at and - review employment, landlord/tenant, and public records; and

  • When shopping online, look for site security (https in address bar, with the padlock icon).

If you are a victim of identity theft:

  • Contact the credit bureaus immediately to place a fraud alert; follow up with a certified letter, return receipt requested

  • Consider a security freeze on your credit reports

  • File a police report listing the fraudulent activity

  • Cancel the fraudulent credit accounts only

  • Save time and money with the Identity Theft Survival Kit.

For more information, visit and

Up Next:
Join us for our next LDA educational presentation,
Rogue Document Preparers: Unfair Competition and LDA Compliance, on Friday May 30 at noon.

Orange County Deputy District Attorney Tracy Hughes has successfully prosecuted both civil and criminal cases against non-attorney legal document preparers who refuse to comply with the registration and bonding requirements to become a Legal Document Assistant. She will speak about her successes with previous cases and the consumer harm caused by rogue document preparers; share what can be done to stem the tide of “paralegals” and other unregistered document preparers who advertise to the public; and address questions about what LDAs can do to protect their businesses against unfair competition from illegal operators.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I attended this seminar and was captivated by Ms. Frank's presentation. There were lots of things I learned that I did not realize about privacy issues. My credit union uses my ss number as my account number and this has bothered me for years. Now I can go in there and say no more. They can't send my number through the mail.

I urge everyone to purchase Ms. Frank's kit. It is inexpensive and totally worthwhile. I did and am sharing it with my whole family.

I am a paralegal and am thinking that maybe I should look into becoming a legal document assistant too. If I can, I am going to attend the next seminar you guys are putting on about the rogues and I hope to meet you and learn more about your organization. I am learning so much reading these articles. They are so interesting and am glad I subscribed. I want to thank you personally. Maybe I will be able to do that in May.