Commentary: Identity Theft and the Flightcrew Member

Air Line Pilot, June/July 2001, p. 6
By S/O David McKenna (Delta)

I recently became aware of how we as flightcrew members are very vulnerable to the threat of identify theft. As a 15-year veteran of the airline industry and a new hire at Delta Air Lines, I admit that I let my guard down and have myself to blame.

Being a trusting individual and convinced that all is right with the world because I am again working for a large, successful airline, I left my flight kit in Operations as my coworkers did when we went to the layover hotel in Dallas/Ft. Worth. When I returned from the layover, I found my flight bag had been "disturbed." That seems to be the best way to describe it. My flight kit is arranged in a manner that allows me to locate things in it without needing to see where I am reaching.

Finding things out of place struck me as odd, but I just kind of brushed it off and the denial factor took over. I was thinking, "This is a secure area. Nobody would bother it here." About 24 hours later, when a mechanic asked me if I had a screwdriver, I reached for my Leatherman and discovered it was gone. Now the light bulb went on, and I began to wonder if someone really had gone through my bag. I knew of only one other place that the Leatherman could be. Itís still at home, I thought.

We were on a maintenance delay, so I called home and asked my wife if the Leatherman was lying on the dresser.

"No," she said. "Why?"

I explained, and finally it hit me that the Leatherman had been stolen. Not a big deal, but a real eye opener because I had felt so comfortable leaving the flight kit in what everyone thought was a secure area.

Now my mind was reeling, and I began to think, "What else is missing?" A quick inventory revealed that my passport had also been stolen! Now, again, I called home to see if maybe I had left it behind, and again I came to realize it had indeed been stolen. I figured, before I pull the alarm bell, I need to be absolutely sure that I am right. I am.

So now what? I asked the captain and first officer what their concerns would be if it happened to them. They both agreed that because no Social Security number was on the passport, I should have no worries. O.K., that made me feel somewhat better.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, unbeknownst to me, every stone was being turned over because my wife sensed my concern about identify theft. I later learned that because she was home alone, every noise the wind made that night caused her to look out the window and check the deadbolts.

I decided to file a police report for the stolen passport, but first I discussed it with the assistant chief pilot at home base and then the chief pilot at Dallas/Ft. Worth. In conversation, I learned that even though the doors have keypad combination locks on them, all airport employees have access to the area. So much for airport security!

Now I was faced with deciding whether the captain and first officer were right. Is my identity really secure? After about 30 minutes of web surfing, I realized I needed to nip this in the bud. Loads of websites advertise software that allows someone to obtain all kinds of information on a person, just by using that personís name, address, and date of birth. One site says that with that information it could find a personís Social Security number. That was all I needed. Because I had already filed a police report and reported the passport stolen to the State Department, I was ahead of the game.

I typed "identity theft" into my Internet search engine and soon arrived at a website for the Federal Trade Commission, www.ftc.gov (the telephone number is 1-877-IDTHEFT). This is where a person faced with identity theft needs to go. The site leads to a 26-page report on identity theft that tells what to do if you suspect you are a victim and recommends steps to take to avoid it.

After taking all the recommended steps, I felt like I had averted a disaster. All the credit bureaus/reporting agencies have issued a fraud security alert on my accounts, and it will remain there for 7 years, or until I ask for it to be removed. They also recommend checking my credit report again in about 3 months, so time will tell.

I highly recommend visiting the website, even if you donít feel you are at risk, to get lots of insight on how identity thieves are able to freeload at someone elseís expense. Senior citizens are especially preyed upon. None of us is immune, as these people are very devious and creative. n

S/O David McKenna (Delta), an ALPA member at Eastern, 1985 to 1989, and at Delta since October 2000, has flown for two FAR Part 135 airlines, seven corporations, and five FAR Part 121 carriers.