Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...


ID theft becoming commonplace, survey shows
Scripps Howard News Service


August 24, 2005

Jeff Weisman was checking the balance in his bank account online from his home when he noticed withdrawals of $494 and $495 that he hadn't made.

Results of ID theft survey
Scripps Howard News Service

Here are selected results from a survey of 1,016 adult residents of the United States interviewed by telephone July 5-19 by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.

"Much has been said recently about identity theft in which thieves obtain personal information about others to gain access to their bank accounts or apply for credit cards in their names. How often do you worry that you could be the victim of identity theft? Do you worry about identity theft a lot, sometimes, rarely or never?"

Worry A Lot .............. 26

Sometimes ................ 32

Rarely ................... 26

Never .................... 16

Have you ever been the victim of identity theft?

Yes ...................... 13

No ....................... 87

Do you personally know anyone who has been the victim of identity theft?

Yes ...................... 36

No ....................... 64

Have you ever checked your credit history from a credit bureau?

Yes ...................... 61

No ....................... 39

How recently have you checked it? Was it in the last year, the last three years, the last five years or more than five years?

Last Year ................ 71

Last Three Years ......... 18

Last Five Years ........... 5

More Than Five Years ...... 6

Did you discover any mistakes on your credit history?

Yes ...................... 27

No ....................... 73

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

Tips for avoiding ID theft
Scripps Howard News Service

Here are some ways the experts say you can minimize your risk of having your identity stolen:

- Buy a shredder and shred all offers of personal credit that companies mail to you.

- If your driver's license has your Social Security number on it, take it to the local Department of Motor Vehicle office and ask then to replace it with another number.

- If you live in a rural area, don't put your mail in your mail box with the flag up.

- Do not use an unlocked, open box at work to deposit outgoing mail.

- Don't carry your military ID in your wallet.

- Do not give away your Social Security number when asked.

- Don't allow your Social Security number to be used as an employee ID number or a school ID number.

- Persuade your employer to stop using your Social Security number on company documents or time cards.

- Don't have your Social Security numbers or driver's licenses on personal checks.

- Avoid being listed in "Who's Who" guides, and don't post your biography online.

- Don't allow anyone to look over your shoulder while using a street-side ATM.

More helpful information:

By Sept. 1, all three companies that compile credit histories will be required to provide free reports once a year to anyone asking for them. The three companies, their mailing addresses and their Internet addresses are:

Equifax. P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, Ga. 30374.

Experian National Consumer Assistance. P.O. Box 2104, Allen, Texas. 75013-2104.

Trans Union LLC Consumer Disclosure Center. P.O. Box 1000. Chester, Pa. 19022.

On the Net:

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

The 50-year-old restaurant equipment consultant from Wellington, Fla., found that there were eight unauthorized withdrawals in all over a weekend. The thefts mounted to almost $4,000 before he could contact SunTrust bank and cancel his ATM card.

Weisman doesn't know who took his money, but he suspects his identity was stolen when he gave information to an Internet site to try to win a digital camera. The lesson of his experience: "Do not respond to e-mails, no matter how attractive the offer might be," he said.

"I know how easy it is for a hacker to get someone's identity. It's pretty disgusting," said Weisman, who recovered his money from SunTrust after 14 days and signed an authorization for the bank to prosecute the thieves if they are ever caught.

Identity theft has become commonplace in America, thanks to the Internet and more convenient ways of banking and obtaining credit, say the experts. In a poll conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, more than 50 percent of those asked said they are worried about identity theft, 35 percent said they knew of a victim, and 13 percent reported they have been victims themselves.

Scott Ksander, who investigates information technology security issues at Purdue University, said cases of identity theft are not only increasing, but the amounts of money lost are going up as well. "The dollar volume has increased. Where it was $500 lost a few years ago, today it's $5,000," he said.

Ksander said he's also seen some cases where thieves have made real estate transactions with someone else's identity. "I think they are moving into the higher dollar areas," he said. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse cites one recent case where a thief used stolen identity to obtain loans against a victim's property and bought a business in his name.

Ksander, a senior analyst with Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance, said police are becoming more aggressive in tracking down the thieves.

"Four or five years ago, the police didn't understand how this worked, but today we are seeing an infusion of new education about this crime," he said.

But the nature of identity theft makes it a difficult and time-consuming crime for police to investigate. Many people don't discover their identity has been stolen until their checks bounce or credit is refused months later. Many never figure out how someone got all their personal information, and by the time the crime is detected, the thief often has moved on to victimize someone else.

Rae Glover, owner of a Las Vegas trucking firm, said someone used her identity to buy two cell phones in January, and she ended up paying more than $500 because she couldn't prove someone working for her wasn't responsible.

Kirk Herath, associate general counsel for Nationwide Insurance, said it's not unusual for people to have to pay all or part of the money stolen from them. A recent Nationwide survey found 16 percent of identity theft victims lost money and located one victim contemplating bankruptcy because of the losses.

"Basically, what's happened is that criminals have discovered a fairly easy way - and a low-risk way - of robbing people," Herath said.

Herath said he doesn't see any easy solution and noted the American economy is thriving because many businesses operate by giving customers instant credit. Victims are left struggling to prove they didn't make the purchase.

"Recovering from identity theft cane be difficult, costly and stressful, but what is most alarming is that despite the time, money and personal duress victims go through, resolution is not always achieved," he said. Nationwide is offering its customers insurance policies that provide experts to help victims clean up their credit records.

Herath said old-fashioned dumpster diving seems to be the source of much of the information that identity thieves use, and he said people need to buy shredders and destroy bank and credit card statements before they put them in the garbage.

"Nothing with your name on it should go to the curb unless it's shredded," he said.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska