First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Eva Casey Velasquez: 2020 has been a very challenging year for everyone. Thankfully my family has stayed healthy, safe, and positive. I’m’ extremely grateful to have the ability to work remotely and that the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) was able to stand up a 100 percent remote workforce in a matter of days back in March.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Eva Casey Velasquez: I have always been driven to provide justice and a sense of wholeness to victims of crime. At the beginning of my career, I achieved that by investigating economic crimes and stopping the perpetrators. During that time, I witnessed a shortage of resources and helped available to victims of economic crimes. When the opportunity to lead a national victim services organization arose eight years ago that focused on helping people with identity crimes and compromise, I knew it was the right place for me. There is still a scarcity of free assistance to this population of crime victims, and I continue to advocate for the rights and needs since they simply don’t have a voice in this space.
How does Identity Theft Resource Center innovate?
Eva Casey Velasquez: Since identity victims’ resources continue to be so scarce, we know that the only way we can help more people is to leverage technology to our benefit. The thieves leverage technology (and its vulnerabilities) regularly; therefore, we need to do a better job than they do.
We were the first organization to develop a Department of Justice funded mobile app and live-chat service for victim services. We are the first organization to use AI to assist more victims after hours and weekends and ensure they receive assistance when and where they need it. Our web-based help center continues to allow victims to educate themselves from the comfort of their homes. This is particularly important when you consider that these people are going through a traumatic event – and ensuring people are not re-traumatized should always be top of mind.
Our creative and innovative culture had allowed us to immediately pivot during COVID-19 when our office closed, leaving no gap in services. The ITRC contact center staff has continued to assist the public at a time when the demand for our services has actually increased due to the overwhelming rise in fraud across all sectors.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Eva Casey Velasquez: The pandemic did not affect our productivity or efficiency in delivering services. As a national organization, we were well versed in providing our services through various platforms, and we have continued to do so seamlessly. However, it has affected our fundraising and revenue. At a time when people need us more than ever, financial support – especially from government sources – has decreased, and we’ve made many changes as a result. The most significant change has been the decision to forgo our office space and remain a remote workforce for the foreseeable future. We are putting more effort into connecting with each other as a team, remaining available, and ensuring that we have the team and executive team meetings every day. Other budget reductions have been put in place to ensure we remain vibrant and ready to help as many people as we can, but we still continue to invest in our people. The mission-driven folks at the ITRC are our top priority alongside the victims that we help.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Eva Casey Velasquez: The choice to forgo our office space was by far the most difficult. Our team has weathered a great storm and done so with grace and positivity. The lesson learned, or rather confirmed, is always to invest in your team. While I will miss the immediate social aspect of work and no longer have an office door, I’ve made it clear to my team that my zoom room is always open.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Identity Theft Resource Center in the future?
Eva Casey Velasquez: Personally, I have tried to keep to my traditional routine as best I can. Even though the boundary between work life and home life has become more porous, I find it helpful to maintain the same morning routine, sans commute, as I did before the pandemic. Now that WFH has become my new normal, I see myself continuing to engage in my regular routine in the future and hopefully coming up with new creative ways to engage with my team. We’ve done virtual happy hours and cooking classes, and eventually, those will become in-person social experiences. The ITRC will look and feel the same to our partners and the public, though. We will continue to address the world events as they come, with everyone invested in the outcomes and everyone working together to keep us vibrant and sustainable.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Eva Casey Velasquez: Unfortunately, we have few competitors other than the federal government. While most businesses would consider this an excellent position, as a non-profit, we need more people dedicated to solving identity crimes and compromise. We will continue to innovate and expand our business service offerings to offset the financial gap created by decreased funding from donations and grants and provide needed services to the SMB community that are increasingly the target of cyberattacks and identity-related crimes. All of the dollars from our business services will continue to go directly back into funding our free services for victims and consumers.
Your final thoughts?
Eva Casey Velasquez: I don’t know a single person or organization that has gone untouched by the recent world events. I’m hopeful that as we look back at this year and begin moving forward in 2021, our families, organizations, communities, and our country come together and look at solutions to these systemic problems that benefit everyone. My family and friends often call me a Pollyanna and tease me for continuing to look for a silver lining, even in the worst of circumstances. But that is who I am and what I do. I know, I just know, that we will come through this moment in history, find our better angels, and continue to help each other in the best ways we can.