Carrie Kerskie 2017 Murray Hendel Award Winner

Published in the Naples Daily News, 12/2/17


By Dave Trecker

Who among us has not been a victim of identity fraud? Who hasn’t had their computer hacked or credit card stolen, leading to unauthorized purchases or diverted tax refunds or accessed bank accounts or stolen medical records?

Maddening, costly, a bureaucratic nightmare and sometimes financially ruinous.

Identity fraud has become one of the country’s most pervasive crimes. In 2016 the IRS received nearly half a million reports from victims. And it’s particularly troublesome in Florida, where our elderly retirees are often easy prey.

In an effort to fight the problem, a task force was formed here in 2013. Spearheaded by Mike Reagen, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and Lydia Galton, the group drew members from organizations and businesses around the county. One of the first things the task force did was to tap Carrie Kerskie to lead the fight.

And lead it she did. Under her direction, the group brought in experts, held public forums, publicized the threat, wrote educational pieces and helped many, many victims. Thousands benefitted from Kerskie’s efforts, which are continuing today.

For her tireless work to combat identity fraud, Carrie Kerskie has been chosen to receive the inaugural Murray Hendel Civic Achievement Award. The award will be presented at a ceremony in December.

Named for Hendel, a Naples icon and outgoing president of the Collier Citizens Council, the award honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the community.

Kerskie has done that and more. Her story is a compelling one.

As head of the Kerskie Group, a private investigating firm, she began receiving calls from identity theft victims in 2006. As more people came to her for help, she immersed herself in the growing problem and learned how the predators operated, how to recognize their scams and cyber attacks. She developed a list of precautions people should take. And, importantly, she codified how to minimize the damage – what victims should do if their identity is stolen.

Encouraged to publicize this, Kerskie wrote a book, Your Public Identity; Because Nothing is Private Anymore, which was published in 2011. That triggered speaking engagements and catapulted Kerskie to national prominence.

But work was needed at the local level, and in 2013 she agreed to lead the Collier task force. Response from the community was immediate and overwhelming. Hundreds came to the public forums, which were repeated to accommodate turn-away crowds. Over a two-year period, eight forums were held, with experts brought in to discuss an array of frauds and how to avoid them.

Kerskie says, “The work of the task force was successful. When it was formed, Naples had the third highest number of identity theft complaints nationwide. Two years later, Naples dropped to seventh.” Real progress, but more work was needed.

In 2015, Kerskie was hired to establish the Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges University. That provided an educational overlay and a base of operations. Through IFI, Kerskie estimates she assists 3-5 victims a week.

Her work is continuing on other fronts as well. She has collaborated with Sen. Kathleen Passidomo to strengthen cyber theft laws in Florida. She regularly conducts workshops for businesses and local community groups. And she has developed programs to certify professionals for mitigating privacy risks. A national conference on the subject, the Organizational Privacy Summit, is scheduled in Naples next spring.

A remarkable record of accomplishments.

It’s axiomatic that one person can make a difference, and Carrie Kerskie has made a real difference.

The Collier Citizens Council is privileged to honor her and her pioneering work.

Trecker is president-elect of the Collier Citizens Council.