Leader Blues

Monday, December 17, 2007

TOP STORY >>FBI official says thefts of identity cost $48B

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The best protection is early detection, an FBI cyber sleuth told Jacksonville Rotarians this week.
Special Agent Craig Bailey, headquartered Little Rock, is on the cyber squad.

Check with one or all three major credit bureaus annually and check balances and activity on various bank and credit card accounts regularly, Bailey warned.

He also advised limiting the number of credit and debit cards a person has and depositing outgoing mail directly at the post office.

Identity theft costs consumers about $5 billion a year and businesses $48 billion a year, he said. The number of complaints in the U.S. has risen from just 1,380 in 1999 to about a quarter of a million in 2006.

On a per capita basis, Arkansas was 33rd among states in 2005, with 1,617 reported cases.

People discovering that they are identity-theft victims contact credit bureaus, the stores involved and their banks, but usually fail to notify the local police and the Federal Trade Commission, which should know and could help investigate, he said.

The FBI gets involved when a crime is committed that crosses state lines, which is fairly common in cases of identity theft, especially where the Internet is involved.

That includes bank, mortgage, health care and government fraud. But identity theft can be low-tech and local, Bailey added.

While identity thieves can get high tech information with sophisticated devices, identity theft is often local and low tech, such as people stealing bills, checks and information out of mailboxes or getting important information by rummaging through the trash.

They can get the information they need by contacting someone on the telephone or Internet, posing as a bank or a business trying to help you.

On the Internet, at least, this is known as phishing or pharming and can take the form of your bank or the IRS or eBay or some other well-know entity telling you they need to check your information or that there’s been a problem with your account.

Other sources of information for identity thieves include laptop computers, which can be stolen or compromised with viruses or patches or are unprotected by reasonable passwords.

Also thieves get access to work-place records or hack computers, most famously stealing millions of identities from Axiom a few years ago. Most financial institutions reimburse the customer if the theft is discovered within two statements, Bailey said.

When people discover they are the victims of identity theft, they should contact the credit bureaus and also the credit card issuers.

Bailey said to also contact the Social Security Administration and the Federal Trade Commission.

Consumers can order a free annual report by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, calling toll free 877-322-8228 or completing the annual credit report request form and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281, according to information passed out by Bailey.