Law enforcement officials have stated that identity theft crime has been one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Identity theft is also one of the fastest growing white color crimes. This is a serious crime. Identity theft is the act of knowingly transferring or using without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state law. If the offender is found guilty, then the person committing the act could get a fine, property forfeiture, or at maximum of 15 years in prison.
How common is identity theft? It is the top consumer fraud complaint. There are estimated 500-750 thousand victims per year. Different types of fraud that are included in the identity theft crime are identification fraud; credit card fraud; computer fraud; mail fraud; wire fraud; and financial institution fraud. One of the ways this crime can occur is by social security number, they assume an identity, make fraudulent credit charges, get loans, open bank accounts, write bad checks on your account, and commit crimes in a person’s name. Some of the ways thieves get some data is by wallet (you may have left behind), mailbox, or garbage; from insecure financial transactions completed over the Internet; from information left on machines in public; wireless technology such as cell phones; beepers; etc., and some will go so far as going through people’s trash. Some of the consequences for victims include fraudulent credit charges, fake vehicle purchases, and home loans. The average victim has around $18 thousand dollars stolen. Some negative consequences a victim may face is he can’t receive credit, and his mortgage rates get higher.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft was involved in more than 40 percent of the consumer complaints it received last year. This was double the amount from the previous year of2000. Social security fraud has gone up over the past four years more than 500 percent. This is an astounding number too consider and critics have complained that perpetrators are still treated with more leniency than your common white-collar criminal is. Also hard to consider is the fact that one third of those who have been convicted of the crime in 2001 have not even been sent to prison. The most common forms of this crime is credit card fraud- more than half of all victims stated that a credit card account or an existing account was being used without authorization; bank fraud; communications services- a quarter of all victims said that a thief used the victim’s name to open a service contract, with a utility service such as a phone company; and fraudulently purchased homes. Credit card fraud accounted for 54 percent of all identity theft crime; communications services accounted for 26 percent; bank fraud accounted for 9 percent; and fraudulent loans accounted for 11 percent according to statistics from the FDC. According to CNN, Washington, D. C. reported 767,000 thefts in 2001. Other states that were among the topped crime reports were California with 446,000; Nevada had 405,000; and Maryland and New York both had 373,000 reported crimes. Between 1997 and 2003, the losses to U. S. financial institutions due to identity theft increased from 2 million dollars to 9 million dollars.
Throughout the history of the crime, federal agencies and government officials have made an effort to address the problem of identity theft. In October of 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 to address the problem. If anyone violates this act, they will be investigated by federal agencies such as the U. S. Secret Service, FBI, and the U. S. Postal Inspection Service and, if possible, prosecuted by the U. S. Department of Justice.
There are many other laws that have to do with credit card fraud. The Fair Credit Reporting Act establishes procedures for correcting mistakes on your credit record and requires that your record only be provided for legitimate business needs. The Fair Credit Billing Act establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts. It also limits a consumer’s liability for fraudulent credit card charges. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protection for all transactions using a debit card or electronic means to debit or credit accounts. It also limits a consumer’s liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers. In the past, law enforcement agencies did not take identity theft as a serious crime. According to an interview with U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein from MSNBC, while many states have passed stronger laws to go after identity fraud, officials in Washington have been slower to take action. When the senate goes back into the office in early 2003, they plan to bring in a plan of legislation that would strengthen laws that surround that crime of identity theft. The proposed laws would increase the penalty for offenders of identity theft. They would also pass a law that would make possession of another person’s identity information a crime if there were intent of committing a felony.
The U. S. State Attorney General’s office also has formed a team of attorneys and investigators to focus on Internet related crimes. It is also developing a “first in the nation” mediation program where consumers and businesses can attempt to resolve crime on-line. State, federal, and local law enforcement officials have now begun to fight crime and fraud on the Internet. Right now, the ideas is to lengthen the ability to fight, protect the public from, and quickly prosecute online crime. Missouri state Attorney General Christine Gregoire stated that her office would partner with Washington University to begin a new web site, to help people stay away from online fraud and crimes. This site will enable consumers to take their names off of marketing lists, make a complaint online, and research current consumer and crime issues. Attorney General Gregoire also stated “Washington is the national leader in high technology. It is only natural that our state be similarly innovative in crime fighting and resolving consumer issues.”
There have been many Supreme Court cases dealing with identity theft. One example of an identity theft case was the H and R Block company identity fraud scam (yahoo, com news). A former office manager at the tax-help company used customer names, social security numbers, and dates of birth to steal retund checks, and withdrew cash from bank accounts and spent thousands of dollars with fake credit cards according to the prosecutor (name not given). The two-year scam was punctuated with shopping sprees where the employee and three others used the credit cards at malls and picked up added cash (from other people taken from bank machines) according to a complaint to the FBI. This case, which was filed in federal court in White Plains, NY. Scammers allegedly used change-of-address cards and personal information taken from the taxpayers to diverge victim checks, credit applications, and other mail to the suspects. Ivy Johnson, former employee of H&R block, along with LaTasha Edwards-Hamlett, Catherine Pointer, and Charles Griffin all have been charged with mail fraud and other crimes. The scheme began to come apart when the Postal Inspector Richard Tracy found a common fact among 27 people who were working by the fake changes of address. They had all been customers of H&R Block in White Plains where Johnson worked. This case is just one example of the rising incidence of identity theft, which can only be defined as the crime that takes the loss of privacy to technology and can drain away at other people’s savings and ruins their credit.
Another example of a Supreme Court case dealing with identity theft includes the largest ever identity theft case in the history of the United States (according to yahoo, com headline news). In this case, three men were charged with stealing credit information from more than 30,000 people. They took almost all the victims’ money out of their accounts and destroyed their credit. According to the U. S. attorney, James Corney stated that the losses were calculated up until now at 2. 7 million dollars. He also stated that it would go up to many more millions and would affect consumers in every state. The prosecutor of the case stated, “With a few keystrokes, these men essentially picked the pockets of tens of thousands of Americans, and in the process, took their identities, stole their money and swiped their security.” The scheme began to occur about three years, ago when Philip Cummings, a help desk worker at Teledata Communications, which is a Long
Island based Software Company, sold unidentifiable passwords and codes to enable the downloading of consumer credit reports. Prosecutors of the case stated, “He was supposedly paid at least 30 dollars for each report, and then that information was then passed on to at least 20 other people whom set out to make money of the stolen information.” According to officials, more than 15,000 credit reports were taken from Experian, a credit history bureau, using the passwords, which belonged to the Ford Motor Credit Corporation. They stated that other firms, which had credit reports taken included Washington Mutual Finance Corporation, the Dollar Bank in Cleveland; the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Illinois; and the Personal Finance Company in Frankfort, Indiana. A U. S. attorney said, “This is every American’s worst financial nightmare multiplied tens of thousands of times.”
Although it is very easy for someone to steal your identity, there are many ways to prevent identity theft. First, destroy all credit cards, and all financial statements; always use secure websites when making purchases over the Internet; don’t talk about financial issues using wireless communications; call up your local DMV and request that your private information get protected from disclosure. Don’t use your mother’s maiden name on your passwords for credit cards. Be cautious of anyone calling to confirm personal information. Thoroughly review all of your bank, credit card, and phone statements for unusual activity. Don’t carry around your social security number. And most-importantly, secure your mail and monitor your credit by asking for credit report once a year and to watch for any unknown purchases.
If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, there are different things that you could do. The first thing to do is be aware. Watch out for any unusual purchases; being denied a loan you have qualified for; watch when your personal records don’t agree with personal records; look out for any unexplained changes in your bank access codes; and look out for any unusual calls regarding your personal or financial information. If you suspect foul play with your credit or feel that something may be wrong, contact your local law enforces merit officials to look into it. Don’t hesitate to follow up.
If you are a victim of identity theft, there are many different steps you can take to make sure that the crime is going to be solved or to make sure that this does not happen again. As with all crimes, report the crime to your local police departments immediately. Call the fraud unit at each of the big three credit bureaus to notify them of what has happened. Do not pay any bills or charges that result from identity theft. Write a victim statement of 100 words or less. Get copies of your credit reports. Call your credit card issuers to close accounts. Create new secret passwords and PIN numbers. Contact the Social Security Administration and advise them of what has happened. Contact an attorney to make sure you are not victimized again. Be persistent and follow up.
Today, identity theft continues to remain a primary focus of law enforcement. As the crime rate for this offense continues to rapidly grow, law Enforcement officials as well as government representatives continue to target the crime and find ways to stop it. There are many things that officials must consider doing that would help prevent identity theft. For instance, provide a law enforcement response to high tech crime complaints 24 hours a day seven days a week. Knowledge, resources, and training should be shared among local law enforcement investigate agencies to prosecute Internet crime more effectively. Funding for computer forensics lab which will be essential for investigating and prosecuting Internet crimes should be made available to legislation and should be enacted to help prosecute on-line crime. Finally, sentencing of this crime must also be put into perspective. One third of all identity theft offenders don’t even get sent to prison, and those who do, don’t even get lengthy terms. Representatives need to come up with legislation that would prosecute and fairly sentence criminals charged with identity theft because this crime surely is a victim’s crime. And remember, identity theft could happen to anyone, even to you.