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Instead of becoming suspicious of everyone around you, Hammond's interesting accounts of ID usurpers will give you the information you need to decide if your personal data is in ...
Instead of becoming suspicious of everyone around you, Hammond's interesting accounts of ID usurpers will give you the information you need to decide if your personal data is in the scope of an identity pirate and specific steps you can take to protect it. He explains how identity theft occurs, who the likely victims are, and what you can do if your identity has been stolen. He gives practical solutions, and surprisingly easy ways to minimize your risk of becoming a victim of what is quickly becoming one of the most prevalent and destructive crimes of the 21st century.
|1||The Extent of the Problem||17|
|2||Confessions of an Identity Thief||27|
|3||Gypsters, Trash, and Thieves||35|
|4||Partners in Crime||53|
|5||Who Are the Victims?||61|
|6||How to Reduce Your Risk||73|
|7||The Law Is (Finally) on Your Side||85|
|8||What to Do If You're a Victim||97|
|9||Overcoming the Emotional Impact of Identity Theft by Linda Foley, Executive Director, Identity Theft Resource Center||109|
|10||When You Know the Identity Thief by Linda Foley, Executive Director, Identity Theft Resource Center; and Mari Frank, Esq., Attorney, Author, and Identity Theft Expert||121|
|Appendix A||An excerpt from "Human Identification Theory and the Identity Theft Problem" by Lynn M. LoPucki, University of California, Los Angeles--School of Law||145|
|Appendix B||An excerpt from "Biometrics and the Future of Money", testimony of John D. Woodward, Jr., Attorney-at-law||155|
|Appendix C||Prepared statement of the Federal Trade Commission on identity theft||167|
|Appendix E||Instructions for completing the ID Theft Affidavit||195|
|About the Author||221|
"I mean, think of how easy it is ... You go to a restaurant ... You sign the bill. You use a credit card. Your credit card number is on the duplicate. What happens with the duplicate? Somebody picks it up. They've got your name, they've got a credit card number, and they're kind of off to the races." -Sen. Diane Feinstein
In a 1999 Wall Street Journal poll, Americans claimed the loss of privacy was their greatest fear, beating out terrorism, global warming and overpopulation, among other contenders.
A 2000 Lou Harris poll found that nearly 90 percent of people were concerned about threats to their privacy, an increase from only 34 percent in 1970. Those polled were nearly unanimous (94 percent) in their beliefs that personal information was vulnerable to misuse. And more than three quarters of them admitted they had declined to answer questions from a business because they thought they were "too personal."
People have good reason to fear. The information explosion, aided by an decade of easy credit, has led to the exponential expansion of a crime that feeds on the inability of consumers to control who has access to sensitive information and how it is safeguarded. That crime is identity theft.
"... [T]he stories in the news on identity theft are not extreme cases in which an unlucky victim has had an unusually bad experience. As one victim from California stated, `It was as terrible as all the books and articles say it is.'"
They are everywhere
Identity thieves don't need to storm a bank vault, pistol whip a convenience store clerk or try to sell you worthless stock to steal your money. All they have to do is find a way to get a little information-your name, Social Security number, address, date of birth, credit card number, cell phone number. They don't even need most of that information, let alone all of it. A Social Security number will work just fine, thank you. An identity thief's gold mine is simply the sum total of your everyday transactions.
Purchasing gasoline, meals, clothes, home-improvement tools, or tickets to an athletic event; renting a car or a video; purchasing gifts or trading stock online; receiving mail; taking out the garbage-any activity in which identity information is shared or made available to others creates an opportunity for identity theft.
Identity theft has been referred to by some as the crime of the new millennium. It can be accomplished anonymously, easily, with a variety of means, and the impact upon the victim can be devastating. Since time immemorial, criminals had to sucker their victims face to face. Identity theft requires no direct communication between criminal and victim. Simply doing things that are part of your everyday routine may give identity thieves enough of an opportunity to get unauthorized access to personal data and commit identity theft.
In one notorious case of identity theft, the criminal, a convicted felon, not only incurred more than $100,000 of credit card debt, obtained a federal home loan, and bought homes, motorcycles, and handguns in the victim's name, but called his victim to taunt him ... before filing for bankruptcy ... in the victim's name. While the victim and his wife spent more than four years and $15,000 of their own money to restore their credit and reputations, the criminal served a brief sentence for making a false statement to procure a firearm, but made no restitution to his victims for any of the harm he had caused.
In many cases, unsuspecting victims have no idea that anything has even happened until they start getting dunned by high-decibel bill collectors or have trouble applying for a job, loan, or mortgage. They then discover that their credit has been seriously damaged or even ruined by any number of purchases undertaken in their name by the impersonator. In what may be the worst possible scenario for victims of identity theft, the impersonator may commit a separate criminal act, resulting in the victim actually facing criminal charges for a crime committed by an imposter.
Victims of identity theft face an enormous and arduous task in repairing both their credit rating and their emotional well being. One of the biggest obstacles they face is that they are, more or less, completely on their own. The prevailing attitude of most creditors advised of a case of identity fraud is downright skepticism. Most creditors require identity-theft victims to submit an affidavit testifying that they did not incur the debt themselves. Many creditors may require more, including the submission of copies of the victim's driver's license, Social Security card, or birth certificate. Understandably, many victims already sucked into the quagmire of identity theft are not eager to hand over these personal identification items, particularly since many victims suspect that a creditor's negligence probably led to the identity theft in the first place!
According to Riverside County Judge Roger Luebs, formerly head of the Cyber Crime Unit of the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, identity thieves come in all shapes and sizes, "from petty thieves and junkies to doctors and business executives. Some people are living very well using the credit worthiness and identities of other people."
The statistics are scary ... and getting worse
* In fiscal year 1999 alone, the Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Fraud Hotline received approximately 62,000 allegations involving SSN misuse.
* A 1998 General Accounting Office (GAO) report ("Identity Fraud: Information on Prevalence, Cost, and Internet Impact is Limited") revealed that in 1995, 93 percent of arrests made by the U.S. Secret Service Financial Crimes Division involved identity theft. In 1996 and 1997, 94 percent of financial crimes arrests involved identity theft. The Secret Service stated that actual losses to individuals and financial institutions totaled $442 million in 1995, $450 million in 1996, and $745 million in 1997.
* Postal Inspection investigations revealed that a significant portion of identity fraud was undertaken by organized crime syndicates, especially to support drug trafficking, and had a nationwide scope.
* Trans Union Corporation, one of the three major national credit bureaus, stated that two-thirds of its consumer inquiries to its fraud victim department involved identity fraud. Such inquiries had increased from an average of less than 3,000 a month in 1992 to more than 43,000 a month in 1997.
* VISA USA and MasterCard International both stated that overall fraud losses from their member banks were in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. MasterCard stated that dollar losses relating to identity fraud represented about 96 percent of its member banks' overall fraud losses of $407 million in 1997.
* A new FTC hotline (877-IDTHEFT) is already logging more than 3,000 calls a week ... and most people don't even know it exists. The FTC reported more than a fourfold increase in identity theft complaints between November, 1999 and March, 2001.
* An independent study in 1999 commissioned by Image Data LLC, an identity theft prevention service, found that approximately one out of every five Americans, or a member of their families, have been victimized by identity theft.
* According to James Huse Jr., the inspector general of the Social Security Administration, a preliminary investigation found that as many as one in 12-or more than 100,000 of the 1.2 million foreigners obtaining new Social Security numbers-illegally use fake documents to get the cards.
* A study commissioned by Identico Systems, a maker of electronic-fraud detection devices, estimated that identity thieves had victimized 13 percent of Americans. Compare that to the national robbery rate, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, stood at 0.32 percent in 2000.
* And in a May, 2000 study jointly published by the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, "[l]ess than half of the respondents felt that their cases had been fully resolved, and those with unsolved cases had been dealing with the problem for an average of four years. Victims estimated that they spent an average of 175 hours and $808 in additional out-of-pocket costs to fix the problems stemming from identity theft."
It took those who had solved their cases nearly two years to do so. Total fraudulent charges averaged $18,000, but were as high as $200,000.
It's so easy, so doggone easy
Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods, from the most banal to the most sophisticated, to gain access to your data. Here are just some of the ways identified by the FTC that imposters can get your personal information and take over your identity:
* They steal wallets and purses containing your identification and credit and bankcards.
* They steal your mail, including your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards and tax information.
* They complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location.
* They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses, for personal data in a practice known as "dumpster diving."
* They fraudulently obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legitimate need for-and a legal right to-the information.
* They get your business or personnel records at work.
* They find personal information in your home.
* They use personal information you share on the Internet.
* They buy your personal information from "inside" sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information about you that appears on an application for goods, services or credit.
Once they've gotten it, here are just some of the ways they can use your personal information:
* They call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, ask to change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there's a problem.
* They open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth, and SSN. When they use the credit card and don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
* They establish phone or wireless service in your name.
* They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks from that account.
* They file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction.
* They counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.
* They buy cars by taking out auto loans in your name.
There's no single way, no simple path. Identity thieves are nothing if not creative, even brazen, in their methods. Attorney General John Ashcroft highlighted a few of the most egregious examples of this "creativity" in a May, 2002, press conference:
"One case involved defendants who located houses owned by elderly citizens and assumed their identities in order to sell or refinance, fraudulently, the properties.
"One defendant is charged with selling Social Security numbers on eBay.
"One hospital employee allegedly stole the identities of 393 hospital patients to obtain credit cards using the false identities.
"Another individual is charged with stealing the identity of a company executive and selling 176,000 of that executive's stock shares."
And in Chicago, a man allegedly committed murder to effect a switch of his identity with the murder victim. This case deserves some detail. J.P. was ready to plead guilty to operating an extensive document-counterfeiting ring that, for a fee, provided counterfeit birth certificates, fraudulently obtained Social Security cards, and Illinois driver's licenses to more than 100 individuals.
Four days before he was due in court, J.P. allegedly killed a homeless man in order to fake his own death, avoid prosecution, and escape unnoticed. He had reportedly made arrangements with a local crematorium to have his body cremated in the event of his death and then recruited another person to "find a body" of someone who "looked like" him, suggesting soup kitchens and the Salvation Army as potential trolling places. Why there? Because the police would never look for someone "like that" if the person was missing.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the two of them suffocated the homeless man that day in J.P.'s apartment. Ever resourceful, J.P. had conveniently arranged for the Chicago Fire Department to come to his apartment, where, of course, they found the "replacement" body, which was transferred to the crematorium under J.P.'s name.
Federal authorities managed to reach the crematorium before the body was cremated. Given that the homeless victim weighed only 165 pounds and J.P. tipped the scales at more than 450 pounds (and "J.P." was not wearing the electronic monitoring ankle bracelet that the district court had ordered him to wear), they discovered the ruse.
J.P. was eventually captured in Boston and indicted with seven co-defendants (including his brother, sister, niece, and personal physician).
If that didn't make you want to immediately cut up every credit card you own and swear to never talk to a telemarketer again, the next two chapters will really scare you. They describe, sometimes in excruciating detail, dozens of cases of identity theft, from the simple and relatively "cheap" to the most bizarre and disturbing, the latter involving far more than just a loss of money.
By Carson James
In the time it takes you to watch the latest episode of "ER," I can run up more than $20,000 in bad debts in your name and disappear without a trace. You may not even realize that you have your own "emergency" until you apply for a loan or try to refinance your house ... and the lender turns you down because your credit's no good. Or until bill collectors start making threatening phone calls and shouting obscenities about debts you know nothing about.
Who am I?
I'm that bum digging through the dumpster behind your place of employment. You probably thought I was just collecting cans, didn't you?
I'm an insurance clerk or bank employee with easy access to all of your personal data.
Excerpted from IDENTITY THEFT by Robert J. Hammond, Jr. Copyright © 2003 by Robert J. Hammond, Jr.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.