Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

TOP STORY >>Warning: identities get taken

Leader staff writer

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America, and Jacksonville has seen its share of it, according to Police Chief Robert Baker.

Baker updated aldermen on the crime statistics at their council meeting Thursday night.

The chief said in the past five years, across the country, identity theft has cost businesses $48 billion and consumers $5 billion.

“There were 10 million victims last year alone,” Baker said.

He added that so far this year in Jacksonville, there have been 63 reports of theft or fraudulent use of credit cards, 142 cases of counterfeit currency, checks or money orders, 14 fraudulent Internet transactions and seven thefts by deception or use of closed accounts.

The department has cleared more than 50 percent of those cases and about 10 percent remain open. The chief said that half of identity thefts are victims of credit card fraud.

“In about 26 percent of the cases, the victim knew who misused their personal information,” Baker said.

He added that 9 percent of the time the thief was a family member or relative, while 6 percent of the time it was someone who worked with the victim.

The chief said many times the thieves get someone’s personal information from stealing files at work, school or a bank, stealing a wallet or purse, stealing mail or sending an email requesting personal information.

Thieves will also Dumpster dive, shoulder surf, bribe employees for information, go phishing on the Internet, hack into computer files or run credit card scams, according to the chief.

Once thieves get personal information they can use the victim’s credit cards, get more credit cards, forge checks, obtain bank accounts and even get personal, student, car or mortgage loans—all in the victim’s name.

This can ruin the victim’s credit and even cause a victim to be arrested on bad check or fraud charges.

“And often it takes months or years for the victim to discover the fraudulent bills and debt,” the chief said.

So how can people protect themselves from identity theft?

The chief offered the following tips:

Secure personal information in the home from others.

Limit the amount of personal information on checks.

Photocopy documents normally carried in wallets and purses.

Do not give out personal information over the phone, Internet or through the mail.

Keep computer virus protection updated.

Never use a Social Security number as a password.

Avoid contests requiring personal information.

Baker said that victims of actual identity theft or even attempted theft need to contact the police and file a report. Victims need a copy of the report to show to financial institutions and credit companies.

“Notify each creditor where the identity thief committed fraud by phone to get stops put on the accounts and then follow up in writing,” the chief said.