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Do You Know Where Your Identity Is?

The February issue of Popular Mechanics featured as its cover story a piece I was commissioned to write about the role of technology in identity theft and online fraud entitled, "It's 10 P.M: Do You Know Where Your Identity Is?" I would have linked to it sooner, but the magazine only published it on their site a few days ago. The folks at Popular Mechanics were a fun bunch to work with -- very professional and thorough.

The story looks at the variety of ways technology is making it easier for criminals to commit identity fraud and identity theft. Here's a snippet:

"Many police departments just can't keep up. "The sheer amount of fraud that comes in is overwhelming," says Anthony Reyes, a detective with the New York Police Department's Computer Investigation and Technology Unit. "In a lot of smaller police departments, the cop with the AOL account becomes the designated tech guy."

The piece I submitted to the editors included a bit about a Florida woman I interviewed who was the victim of identity theft. Her tale was ultimately cut from the story before publication, probably for space reasons and because it wasn't really technology-related. At any rate, her saga is a compelling and probably all-too-common one, and I thought it would be a shame were it never told, so here it is:

Not all identity theft involves financial losses: According to the FTC, the most common non-financial form of fraud takes place when the thief uses the victim's name and identifying information when caught committing a crime or otherwise stopped by law enforcement officials.

Beth Givens, director of the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said this type of fraud -- known as "criminal identity theft" -- frequently is committed by someone the victim knows.

"Often times criminal ID theft is committed by a former roommate or the 'black sheep' in the family," Givens said.

In most cases, criminal ID theft happens when the perpetrator is arrested for a crime but does not have any identification on them at the time and instead provides someone else's credentials. When the imposter dodges a future court date, the judge in the case issues an arrest warrant for the person whose identity information the perpetrator used.

"Then the next time the good guy gets stopped for speeding, the cops cuff him and haul him off to jail in the back of a squad car," Givens said. "These kinds of cases can be life-destroying. We've talked to innocent people who have spent days and weeks in jail for this kind of thing."

Nadine Nicolas, a 35-year-old security guard for a gated community in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., woke up one morning in April 2005 to the sound of a policeman pounding on her front door and armed with a warrant for her arrest: She was wanted for a misdemeanor and three felony charges stemming from check fraud and counterfeiting. Nicolas explained that she had recently lost her drivers' license and that someone must have stolen her identity.

Nevertheless, Nicolas was arrested, brought to the station house, fingerprinted and then spent the night in jail. The crimes of which she was accused were committed in another area several counties away in northern Florida, in places she told police she had never before visited. Someone using her identity had created counterfeit checks, and then used her identity to cash them in at local banks and supermarkets.

The resulting legal battle between the local prosecutor and Nicolas has endangered her qualification for a security license and her firearms permit, and she has spent thousands of dollars on bail and a criminal attorney to help clear her name. To this day, the county where the fraud was committed still has not expunged the charges, and her assailant remains at large.

Nicolas said she felt as though she was considered guilty until proven innocent.

"You know, you get in a situation like that and you really have to prove that it wasn't you," Nicolas said. "This has pretty much ruined my life, and meanwhile this woman -- whoever she is -- is probably already out ruining someone else's."

By Brian Krebs  |  February 20, 2006; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Safety Tips  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Botnets: A Global Pandemic
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I always get a good laugh when I read stories like this. There is no such thing as "Identity Theft".

The problem is almost always the result of some third party not doing their job, and our current legal system not holding them accountable or responsible. It could be a bank giving money to someone they didn't actually verify the identity of, then escaping responsibilty by charging the fraudulent transaction against one of their customer's accounts (that happened to have the same credentals the criminal provided). Or in the case mentioned in the story, incompetent Police just not doing their jobs.

From the story:
"In most cases, criminal ID theft happens when the perpetrator is arrested for a crime but does not have any identification on them at the time and instead provides someone else's credentials"

Huh? So the police apprehended a suspect, didn't do their job to properly identify them, then let them go? How incompetent is that? Seems like anyone wrongfully accused as the result would have a grounds for an open and shut lawsuit against this PD.

Posted by: NoSuchThing | February 20, 2006 2:45 PM | Report abuse

<to the back a--wards laugher, you got behind the back of yourself on that one bud, though the perpetrators , as you explained their due course, are one and the same at any rate don't give them another out

Posted by: \javaron | February 21, 2006 2:01 PM | Report abuse

in another approach, lets clarify that the bank is not your 'friendly' sponsor as an independent or individual account owner. He is directly or indirectly working and 'friendly' to the rougue salesman who hits you with a faulse transaction...criminals seeking your identity to thwart criminal prosecution are the priority, not Enrons, who lprobably provided the situation for the identiy thief to begin with.

Posted by: javaron | February 21, 2006 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I Have had someone use my SS# To order services in my name, commit fraud and slander my life into ruin
Does anyone know who might be able to help me?
I Am devastadedly broke and police dont know what to do
every cell phone i get somehow gets cloned by the same person who is terrorising me to death
Email me at GoddessFire@GMail.Com

Posted by: s. elliott | March 30, 2006 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Try this one for size. I am a victim of identity theft and I have posted a fraud alert warning in my credit files. For a time, I thought all I had to battle were retailier who often provide instant credit to anyone sporting fake documents without getting credit reports or retailer who do not pay attention to or care about anything else than making the sale. But, to my surprise, I received a call from a used car auto dealer, who luckily inquired when they saw the fraud alert in my credit file. Because of that call, I found out that the Department of Motor Vehicles had issued a drivers license to an individual sporting my SSN. I went to the DMV and asked for them to do a search for any drivers licensea tied to my SSN. The DMV denied that this kind of search could be done, rejected the idea that more than one driver license could be tied to one SSN and refused to proceed further. But, through my own investigative efforts, I found the fraudulant driver license was legitimite and presented the number to the DMV. At that time, it became clear to the DMV that they a problem with their system. So what was the results of the DMV incompetence, a person fraudulantely using my SSN was given a legitimite, though fraudulant, drivers license. How is one to protect himself when a state agency legitimizes a fraud and then displays such level of incompetence and the arrogance to believe that they are fool or fraud proof.

Posted by: J from LA | September 18, 2006 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Reply to "NoSuchThing".

It's an amazing kind of humor to laugh on ID-thefts. No fun, more a retarded kind of sense.
Moreover, ID thefts are not at all a matter of a Third Party negligence, only.

ID thefts are more or less the worst thing that can ever happen to you being still alive.
The gangsters change your address so you never know what happens to you in due time. They apply for a new passport for the needs of criminals and terrorism rendering yourself to be caught by the Police at your job instead of the true criminal. They apply for a new driver's license and open a numerous number of credit cards and empty all accounts. The buy and sell - nothing to be delivered. New credit lines and mortgages are opened, you'll become Chairman in some 100 subversive companies of trafficing, drugs and more, your car sold, house or apartment as well and you'll expect some turbulent razzias by the IRS. Next Saturday lured new "owners/tenants" of your home are queuing and yelling outside to take possession attacking you and your family after settled upfront payments each of them . If you are able - between your laughs - pls try for a moment to imagine the decade of horror, family financial ruin and marriage disaster this will render to these tragic individuals. During decades they won't get either a job or a bank to even allow them to come inside the door. It's social benefit, The Salvation Army hostels and starving that counts here.

Finally, Third Parties are the less direct responsible for ID-thefts.

Firstly, the absolutely best way to steal your Identity is during eShopping. Some "Boris" opens a webshop and markets it in many ways. Boris's business is "Rest-Seat-Holiday Tickets" e.g. pleasant travels at a budget level you simply can't comprehend. What do you say about his offer of 2 weeks at a sandy beach offshore on the Bermudas to $150 all included, just 3 seats left...?
How many 10ns of thousands of individuals would fall into that trap and leave away their credit card number, address, the CV2 code on the backside of card, a MasterCardSecureCode®, any special eShopping code by bank, SSNs, wife... etc?. The scammer gives "Approval" to you so once-codes are as well still valid for use/sale and nothing will ever be delivered but financial ruin. No credit card company ever involved so everybody unknowing. The scam will be disclosed by the credit card Invoice some 30 days too late and Boris is the one who enjoys the prepaid Bermuda vacation.

Another way to trap us is during online banking with spywares in your computer stealing everything you ever strike on your keyboard for later use.

A third way is to redirect you to a bogus bank website where you leave away your ID.

A fourth way is to phish with bogus emails copied at larger retailers' websites, at banks or at public bodies.

A fifth way is to scan your card during swiping it in the cashier's till in the supermarket. This scan can be made at back office by eavesdropping ( not-encrypted ) and/or on the Internet during transmission by wiretap ( encrypted ) and/or at the final destination of ID for checkout ( encrypted ). As encryption SSL etc is no longer safe this way is very lucrative.

A sixth way is "brute force" . The bad guy puts a line of computers to send continuous car number / code requests to large eRetailers. Each number that gets approval by the webshop is true and stored for ID-sales.

There are several more ways to lose ID without the negligence by Third Part mentioned in your Comment.

Posted by: William Palmborg, SecuraSystemCorp. | September 19, 2006 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why the Government is not doing anything in this regard, there is no legislation aganst the spammers, the companies which are doing this should be penalized with billions of Dollars. My question is when there are systems to detect the origination of Viruses, why cannot the crime detectives find these people/companies and put them in Jail. Also most importantly any company can give credit if someone gives full credentials of a person and they are least bothered to listen to you once the transaction is made, when you call them to say that you did not make the transaction. If we consider all the facts than we can consider that the Identity theifs are in one way protected , in the sense if the are not cought that means they are protected. It is a regret that the victims has no protection and to clear themselves they have to spend 000's of Dollars and they cannot expect any help from the Government. In one way we can think that the Identity theives are generating more jobs which is good for economy.

Posted by: Kapil | September 20, 2006 1:48 PM | Report abuse

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