Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini developed an appreciation for honest, hard-working folks while he was growing up in Trenton.
“My parents were blue-collar, working-class people with a penchant for making sure their children take a step ahead of them,” Bocchini says. “My mother was just great. I probably wouldn’t be the prosecutor today but for her guidance over the years.”
And the last thing he wants is to see folks like these get taken advantage of by ID thieves.
Bocchini will discuss identity theft, how it has changed over the years, and how falling prey to it can prove costly to any business, at the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, September 28, at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Hamilton. Cost: $55. Visit mercervillenjcoc.weblinkconnect.com.
Also attending will be assistant prosecutor James Scott, chief of the county Economic Crimes Unit. The unit pursues allegations of fraud and is responsible for investigating and prosecuting a broad range of illegal financial schemes.
Bocchini says the seminar will touch on how modern, high-tech thieves now have the ability to obtain information from ordinary citizens via computer, as well as through the old-fashioned way of digging through one’s garbage and through scams that everyone should know about by now, but still falls for.
“It can be devastating to the person it happens to,” Bocchini says. “That’s why citizens need to take care of their personal affairs and keep a close on eye on those matters that others may have an opportunity to view.”
Not an epidemic, but growing. Bocchini says that while people may be more aware of identity theft, it’s not because there has been in an increase in incidents. In fact, the number of reported incidents still trails behind more traditional crimes he sees as a prosecutor.
Keeping the rate of identity theft rates below that of others is one thing he aims to do, but very often, people and business owners don’t take even the simplest of steps until it is too late. He says staying educated and aware is the first way people can keep from becoming victims.
“It’s really one of those types of crimes that, until you’re hit with it, you almost didn’t think about it,” he says. “So awareness is really the key to preventing it. But even with that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to prevent it.”
All in the same boat. Whether you are an individual or a business, there are key pieces of information that should never see the light of day. Checking accounts, credit card statements, and other personal information that fall into the wrong hands can mean devastating financial consequences.
“The advice you have for the ordinary citizen really applies to a business because an ordinary citizen has bank accounts, checking accounts, credit card accounts, et cetera, and businesses have banking accounts, checking accounts, and credit card accounts,” he says. “So it might be of a corporate nature, but it is still identifiable.”
Everything that’s old is new. With the growing prevalence of online banking, Bocchini says computer users need to make sure they have up-to-date computer protection, as well as be aware that, even though it’s on the computer, scammers can operate the same way they used to, only through E-mail.
It’s a story everyone has heard before. “We had an incident where people would receive these crazy letters in the mail saying they won money,” Bocchino says. “All they need is your bank account and mother’s maiden name and the next thing you know, they’re into your finances.”
Similar scams have been perpetrated countless times over the Internet and the telephone as well. He says keeping bank records, credit card statements and applications, convenience checks, medical bills, and other personal records out of sight, or shredded when no longer needed, is the most effective form of fighting identity theft. Just as important is not giving that information out voluntarily unless you are absolutely certain of who you are giving it to.
In addition, Bocchini says, high-tech criminals have become adept at forging checks and using personal information to steal identities. Checking your records regularly can help identify problems quickly. “If you’re a small business in the area and someone is able to duplicate your check — and these high-tech thieves are pretty good at this stuff — the next thing you know, a series of checks are being written off of your company name,” he says. “And then that owner is getting a call from the bank saying, ‘Mr. Smith, your account is now overdrawn.’ Obviously, reviewing all statements in all areas, bank statements, credit card statements, and checking your credit reports is important.”
Bocchini’s own efforts to protect his identity include swearing off online banking and limiting his paper trail as much as possible.
“I’m still sort of old school,” he says. “I drive up to the bank and they say ‘What would you think about online banking?’ I say, ‘I don’t.’ Whenever the teller asks that, I tell them, that if I did it they wouldn’t need you. I’m good for the economy.”
That will to protect himself and others is note something he just learned, it’s something he has always felt was right. A prosecutor since 2003, Bocchini became the first full-time prosecutor in Mercer County to be sworn in to a second five-year term in 2009. Prior to becoming a prosecutor he served as a municipal court judge in Hamilton Township for two-and-a-half years.
“It’s funny,” he says. “If you were to go back and look at the 1962 edition of the Trenton High School yearbook you would see under my picture, ‘Future Vocation’ and it says lawyer,” he says. “It was always something I enjoyed as a teenager and it seemed that all the politicians of that time were lawyers and I said, ‘You know what, one day I’ll be a lawyer and a politician’ — and sonuvagun, here I am, a lawyer.”
Bocchini graduated from Murray State University in Kentucky and the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he was a member of the Law Review staff. He was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 1974.
A Trenton boy through and through, Bocchini eventually returned to the area that he says had made him the man he is today. “I was born in Chambersburg, and raised in the Villa Park area and went to the Trenton public school system,” he says. “The area has changed dramatically. I remember all the times I drive by my old house and I remember how pristine my mother used to keep it, and it’s not the same.”
But it wasn’t just the area that helped shape Bocchini, it was his parents, too. His father was a steel worker who worked on the cables now used to hold up the Verrazano Bridge, while his mother did a little bit of everything.
“She was a mother and wife first,” says Bocchini. “She worked part time at City Hall in Trenton, in the department of Motor Vehicles, and waitressed on the weekend. She was also very active in politics, from the PTA to being involved in the City Council.”
It was his mother’s work that inspired him to pursue the career he did. When he was young, Mrs. Bocchini helped run local campaigns and was active in local politics.
“I had the opportunity to meet the people you admire as a child,” he says. “You look up them and see that they’re intelligent and that people respect them. What motivates one person may not motivate another, but that was what motivated me in life. I look back and I see the people I met, whether it was a teacher, or a coach, or a professional or someone who worked in steel with my father, you just look up to them because of the type of person they are.”