Examples are obtaining credit cards and loans in someone else's name and then not paying the bills, opening utility accounts, renting an apartment, getting a cellular phone, purchasing a car or a home, and so on. Another type of identity theft - what I call the worst case scenario - is when the perpetrator commits crimes in the victim's name and gives that person a criminal record. Victims are not liable for the bills accumulated up by the imposters, thanks to federal law. But they do have the anxiety and frustration of spending months, even years, regaining their financial health and restoring their good credit history.
How many victims of this crime are there? We don't have accurate statistics. But I estimate that there are , to , victims this year. For more information, www. General Accounting Office tracked identity theft statistics from to , based on figures provided by the Trans Union credit reporting agency CRA. A graph on page 40 shows a dramatic fold increase in the volume of calls from individuals to Trans Union's Fraud Department during the six-year period from to Trans Union now receives well over 2, calls a day from victims of identity theft.
General Accounting Office, www.
GGDBR, , p. Why are these figures significant? When individuals learn they are a victim of this crime, the first step they should take is to contact the three bureaus and place a fraud alert on their file. Therefore, the number of calls received by the CRAs' fraud departments is a good indicator of the volume of this crime. Why is this crime so rampant today? It is very easy for the criminals to obtain the information needed - in particular, Social Security numbers.
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As a result, SSNs are used as identification and account numbers by many entities -- insurance companies, universities, cable television companies, military identification, banks, securities brokerage companies, and the like. In about a dozen states, the SSN is used as the driver's license number. Identity thieves can obtain SSNs by stealing mail where those numbers are included. They sift through the trash outside of businesses and residences in hopes of finding unshredded documents containing SSNs and other data. Dishonest employees can obtain SSNs in the workplace by obtaining access to personnel files or accessing credit reporting data bases commonly available in auto dealerships, realtors' offices, banks and other businesses that approve loans.
Another reason identity theft is rampant is because of credit industry practices. Credit grantors make it all too easy to obtain credit. Many credit issuers do not adequately check the identities of applicants before granting credit. Instant credit opportunities are especially popular with identity thieves for this reason. Credit grantors are all too eager, in their competitive zeal, to obtain new customers.
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It is not uncommon for households to receive several pre-approved offers of credit per week. In fact, a Los Angeles Times news story reported that credit issuers mailed 3. Another reason identity theft is skyrocketing is that it does not yet get the attention of law enforcement that more violent crimes receive - like breaking and entering, mugging, robbery by gunpoint, and bank thefts. Many violent criminals and organized crime rings are moving to identity theft because they know that law enforcement resources are not yet sufficient to investigate the majority of such crimes.
Identity thieves are rarely apprehended and sentenced. If they are, penalties are minimal and rarely include jail time. Community service and parole are the usual sentences. My second topic is the methods used by identity thieves to obtain identifying information about their victims. Typically, they obtain the Social Security number and name. That's often all that is needed to apply for credit called "application fraud". They also might obtain credit card numbers and hijack existing accounts called "account takeover.
Other pieces of information useful to identity thieves are dates of birth, mother's maiden name, and driver's license numbers. In a recent case in San Diego, a dishonest employee had unfettered access to a storage room where past payroll information was filed.
She obtained SSNs of over current and former employees and used them to obtain credit in their names.
We learned of a case where a member of a Nigerian crime ring was employed temporarily at a very large corporation. He downloaded the employee list containing SSNs and then one by one the employees' identities were used for fraudulent purchases. The employees didn't know about it until they started sharing stories and learned that many of them had been hit. It wasn't until much later that the human resources department confessed that they had known about the theft, but they didn't want to tell the employees and cause them to panic.
My third topic is what happens to the victims of these crimes?
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Even though each identity fraud case is different, what happens to the victims is, sadly, all too similar. Many police and sheriff's departments refuse to issue a police report to the victims. They claim that the banks and credit card companies are the real victims because they suffer the financial losses. Many victims find they need the police report to prove their innocence to the credit card companies and the check guarantee services.
Victims must also deal with abusive collection agencies. They are threatened with law suits, garnished wages, and having their homes taken away from them. In a recent survey we conducted with CALPIRG, we found the average amount of time spent by victims to regain their financial health was hours.
And those cases had dragged on for an average of two years, with many cases taking more than four years to be resolved. It's little wonder that victims feel violated, helpless and angry. They are unable to rent an apartment, get a job, qualify for a mortgage, buy a car, all because someone else's bad credit history is recorded on their credit report. Essentially the entire burden of this crime is placed on the shoulders of the victims. Another case that came to our hotline was an Hispanic man, a U.https://viptarif.ru/wp-content/husband/1530.php
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He was taken into secondary inspection by U. Customs on his return trip to San Diego.
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He was transported from San Diego to San Francisco and put in jail. It took him 10 days before one of the officers believed him, took his fingerprints as he had requested all along, and realized they had the wrong person. My fourth and final topic is legislative and industry solutions to the crime of identity theft. The awareness of identity theft among consumers has skyrocketed in the past year -- primarily because of media coverage.
I think consumers are becoming much more wary of disclosing personal information and having it given out without their consent, especially on the Internet. These outcries by members of the public have resulted in some legislative attention brought to the issue, both on the federal level and in the states. It makes identity theft a federal felony - when someone knowingly uses the identification of another person with the intention to commit any unlawful activity under federal and state law. Violations of this Act are investigated by federal agencies like the U.
Postal Inspection Service. Such crimes are prosecuted by the U. Department of Justice. This new law allows for restitution for victims. It established an identity theft clearinghouse within the Federal Trade Commission. In recent years nearly 40 states have criminalized identity theft. Most of them have made it a felony. A list of those states can be found on the FTC's web site at www. On the one hand, I'm pleased that this crime has been criminalized by these new laws.
But I believe that in order to make a dent in identity theft, the practices of the credit industry must change dramatically.
The May identity theft victims survey conducted by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and CALPIRG found that the average amount of time that had transpired before individuals learned they were victims of identity theft was 14 months. Before closing, I want to briefly discuss the role of law enforcement in investigating identity theft crimes and assisting victims.
Detectives were assigned to their cases less than half of the time. And one-fourth of the victims were not able to obtain a police report. It is clear that the crime of identity theft calls for some new approaches by law enforcement. One approach that is being explored in California is the development of a single unit within the police department that specialize in identity theft. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has established such a unit. Assemblymember Robert Hertzberg has introduced AB to fund three pilot projects in the state to establish such specialized units.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify about the crime of identity theft.