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IP: The Road to Biometric IDs: Identity Theft
From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: The Road to Biometric IDs: Identity Theft
Date: Wed, 14 Oct 1998 08:39:43 -0500
To: [email protected]
When Someone Else Becomes You - Identity Crisis
Lost Privacy is Price of Information Revolution
"You feel like [your credit rating] is a mark of integrity, and then
you're treated like a criminal and the whole onus is on you to prove you
didn't do it." - identity theft victim Amy DuBois
Could someone morph into you? (ABCNEWS.com)
By Jan M. Faust
Oct. 9 - Babies are targeted. So are ex-lovers, ex-roommates, ex-friends
and ex-spouses. And oh yeah, strangers too. People who use the Internet are
definitely at risk. And so are those who don't.
When it comes to identity theft-the pilfering of someone's personal data to
get a free ride on a clean record or bountiful credit-the scams are so
wide-ranging that there can be no generalization about who will get hit and
Although there are no definite numbers on the incidence of identity theft
in the United States, it is believed to be
on an explosive trajectory. Last year, Trans Union, one of the nation's
three major credit bureaus, reported approximately 350,000 cases of
identity fraud. And, the U.S. Secret Service, a wing of the Treasury
Department that gets involved on the larger cases, arrested approximately
10,000 people for participating in organized identity theft rings.
As the numbers keep mushrooming, so have costs-up from $442 million in 1995
to $745 million in 1997, says Assistant Deputy James Bauer of the Secret
Service. "So there's been a significant increase in the losses that tell us
they're doing it more and applying a certain level of expertise."
Your Money and/or Your Life
When your evil doppelgangers go for convertible sports cars, or chunky
diamond necklaces, more than your credit rating can be damaged.
"I can promise you the day you learn of it you are at least 18 months from
being whole again, " says Bauer. "During which time you can't buy a car,
get a loan, maybe you're turned down for a job, and you may not even know why.
Amy DuBois knows this firsthand. The 34-year-old Boston surgeon was
swindled in what seemed a simple purse filching from her locked desk at the
hospital. She took immediate, and what she assumed was adequate, action by
canceling her credit cards and checks.
Once that might have been enough. But as Bauer points out, new safeguards
in the credit industry, like real-time verification of credit cards, have
forced thieves to get craftier.
The end result is that now, "Pickpockets will steal your wallet, and I say
this facetiously, but they'll give you back the cash, just to get the IDs,"
Instant Credit Can Be an Instant Headache
Although DuBois never recovered her purse or the money in it, it was the
identification that was the real commodity. "Nearly two years later,"
DuBois says, "I got a phone call at home from a collection agency about an
overdue credit account of $3,500 from a jewelry store in Detroit.
"And then they started coming-I got two more notices in the mail, and two
by phone within the next couple of days." When she checked her credit
report, she found that almost $30,000 dollars of jewelry, roaming cell
phone charges, and department store items had been racked up in her name,
from accounts made at department stores with instant credit, billed to
addresses that weren't hers.
"The instant credit folks, like the departments stores, they're not
checking or verifying because they're so eager to have new customers,
because it's so competitive," says Beth Givens of the Privacy Rights
Clearinghouse, whose consumer organization publishes help for victims. "I
think the blame for a good bit of this epidemic lays at the feet of the
Will the Real Amy DuBois Stand Up?
The fake Amy DuBois, it turned out, was a serious shopaholic. The real
DuBois said that seeing her own credit report was "eerie"
"Your student loans are there, your own Neiman-Marcus account, and then
next to those are nine accounts that just aren't yours, marked delinquent."
After 30 hours of her own time, four uninterrupted days of her secretary's
time, and about $1,000 in lawyer's fees, DuBois is gradually starting to
sort things out. That's typical, explains Ed Mierswinsky, a consumer
advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
"The victims end up in a real mess. They sit on hold with the credit card
companies, they sit on hold with the credit bureaus, they get on endless
voice mail loops, the police don't care because the amount of money lost
doesn't make their threshold for making major cases and getting promotions."
For DuBois, what lingers now besides the voluminous paperwork needed to be
filed whenever she legitimately needs to establish credit, is suspicion and
mistrust about giving out her personal identifiers.
Recently while trying to open an account at Blockbuster Video, she was
asked for her driver's license and Social Security number. "I said, 'No,
I'm not providing that. You don't need to have that.'" Although she
eventually relented on the driver's license, she said she's much more
protective of her Social Security number.
Give Me Some Credit Here
Guarding that precious number is one key to improving your odds, agree
privacy rights advocates. Criminals will try to liberate it from you in a
number of ways, as low-tech as sifting through your garbage can for
records, and as high-tech as setting up application forms on Internet sites
offering credit cards at the impossibly low, low rate of 1 percent APR.
And since it's extremely difficult to eliminate risk, Givens suggests
ordering your credit report at least once a year. "The key is to catch it
early. We recommend just going to one of the three credit bureaus, and if
you see signs of fraud, then order the other two."
That would have helped DuBois, who's says she'll feel insecure and violated
for the rest of her life.
"It's a very strange sensation. I have a very good credit record, I've been
very careful. You feel like it's a mark of integrity, and then you're
treated like a criminal and the whole onus is on you to prove you didn't do
it. The whole thing is very frightening."
For all of her expense and troubles, DuBois' experience could have been
worse. More damaging than run-of-the-mill credit theft are those cases
where criminal records or vital statistics are affected, through marriage,
divorce, an arrest, or even death under the cloned name.
"I know of a case out West where a lady died using an assumed name," says
Bauer, "and the true name holder had to get a death certificate undone."
Recent Examples of Identity Theft
In New York this week, the state attorney general warned of a scam being
circulated through e-mail, faxes and fliers offering consumers a
reimbursement of $500 from Gerber Baby foods as settlement in a phony class
action. To apply, parents were asked to send copies of their child's birth
certificate and Social Security card. Babies' Social Security numbers are
plum because they allow for unflawed credit, and are rarely checked for
fraud. John and Jane Smith's adult daughter obtained credit cards in their
name and ran up debts of more than
$40,000. She paid the interest fees so as not to alert her parents of her
use of the credit cards, but was not able to keep up the payments. The
credit card companies now demand the Smiths pay the bill, given that the
debtor is their daughter.
A thief stole Annette's wallet, and has since written bad checks in her
name, and used her credit cards. Annette
wonders if anyone pays attention to driver's license photos. The thief is
white and Annette is African-American. To make matters worse, she has to
pay $10 every time she needs a notarized affidavit stating she is not the
Meredith rented a room in her home to a woman who found her SSN. She
collected the pre-approved offers of
credit that were mailed to the house, filled them out in Meredith's name,
and obtained 15 credit cards. She
watched the mail and retrieved the monthly statements before Meredith saw
them. She has since moved out,
leaving Meredith with debts totaling $74,000.
Francine was employed for a time as a writer for a publishing company.
After she left, she found that her
employer was using her SSN and driver's license number to obtain credit in
her name. A police department
detective investigating the case told Francine that the woman has a long
history of identity theft spanning many
Cheryl and her 7-year-old daughter went to the bank to open a checking
account for the daughter. The bank told
Cheryl her daughter had a bad credit report. Cheryl thinks that her
ex-husband has been using the child's Social
Security number to open credit accounts.
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