Identity theft focus of Tuesday workshop
SUMMIT COUNTY – As the identity theft coordinator for the Denver field office of the United States Secret Service, Rick Flores is all too familiar with what can happen when people’s personal information is poached and used against them. In one Colorado case, a retired engineer poured tens of thousands of dollars into stock through a well-known online investment company. One day he logged on to his account and discovered his entire portfolio had been sold.It turned out a hacker had loaded software onto the victim’s computer through cyberspace and began tracking his keystrokes, eventually obtaining his user name and password for his investment account and using the information to access his money.The online company ultimately returned the man’s investments, not wanting to lose business due to lack of consumer confidence, Flores said.But, not all victims are fortunate enough to get their cash back. Flores recalled a group of Colorado investors who lost about $3 million in a scam run by a fraudulent telemarketing company based in South America that used stolen credit cards and false addresses in the U.S. to cover their tracks. “Identity theft has been around, but it’s taken off with the advent of this technology age because now the data is so readily accessible,” Flores said. “It makes it a lot easier to commit these crimes.”The Secret Service is just one of many federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, attempting to combat the threat of identity theft, from the small-scale cases, such as credit card applications stolen from victims’ mailboxes and activated, to the larger international rings.”There so much of it, there’s not one agency that can keep track of it,” Flores said.In 2005, Colorado stood at fifth in the nation for number of identity thefts per capita, ranking below only Arizona, Nevada, California and Texas, according to numbers released in January by the Federal Trade Commission. Last year, there were 4,535 victims in the state, not a particularly alarming number, Flores said, but that equated to 97.2 victims per 100,000 people in the state – the fifth highest number in the nation.The majority of the victims in Colorado were between 18 and 39 years old, and the most common form of identity theft fell into the credit card fraud category and a category dubbed “other,” which includes internet/e-mail, evasion of legal sanctions, securities/other investments, medical and apartment/house rented, among a few others, according to the FTC data.More than one-third of all consumer complaints filed with the FTC in 2005 were identity theft related, the agency reported. Now it would seem Colorado lawmakers are realizing the potential severity of the situation. A new law went into effect July 1 making identity theft a Class 4 felony crime in Colorado. Previously, it was illegal to possess a person’s identification and gather personal information by deception, but the crimes were only considered Class 1 misdemeanors. According to the stiffer law, identity theft includes using or possessing another person’s information, credit card, check, or other financial device for some gain; creating or tampering with financial devices with the intent to defraud a person or to apply for a financial benefits or government-issued document; or conspiring with or soliciting another person in these acts.Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, who sat on the District Attorney’s Council that pushed for the law, said he believes the updated legislation will help detract people from committing the crimes in Summit County, where the prevalence of identity theft so far has been minimal.Hurlbert said his office typically prosecutes a lot of smaller cases, such as someone stealing and using a roommate’s personal checks or credit cards. But, in other parts of the state, full-fledged identity theft cases are becoming more common, and Hurlbert said he hopes to be ahead of the curve if and when the crimes make their way to the mountains.”It starts in the Front Range and then we see it here a couple years later,” Hurlbert said.Summit County Sheriff’s Office Detective Juan Berber warned that various forms of identity theft can happen to anyone, be it an individual or a business. In fact, Berber’s own employer recently fell victim to theft of sensitive information when an inmate in the Summit County Jail used the bank account and routing numbers off a check he received upon release to pay for time on telephone hotlines.”He did it to us twice and after the second time we changed our account number, but even something like that can be really devastating,” Berber said, adding that the sheriff’s office has changed its policies to prevent future incidents.With the growing number of identity theft cases worldwide taking advantage of the internet’s security shortfalls, Secret Service agent Flores advised anyone who divulges personal information online for investment or other purposes to use anti-virus and spyware software to protect themselves.”The latest trends show that the money losses are getting higher per incidence,” Flores said. “(Thieves) used to get a lot of small losses, but it looks like as they get better at it, they’re targeting people for bigger money.”Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13625, or at email@example.com.Concerned about your identity being compromised?An identity theft workshop will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Fremont Room in the Summit County Community and Senior Center. U.S. Secret Service identity theft coordinator Rick Flores is the keynote speaker. The event is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by Aleda Kresge, owner of Affinity Wealth Management in Frisco, the town of Frisco and the Frisco Police Department. One attendee will win a free shredder. Resources for freezing your credit accessThe new identity theft law that went into effect on July 1 also gives consumers the right to freeze thieves out of their credit files. This law allows consumers to block access to their credit reports and scores by freezing the account, and making it impossible for this personal information to be breached, unless they unlock their credit files by contacting the credit bureaus and providing a security code. “Complex identity theft crimes occur when thieves steal Social Security Numbers or other personal data and use the information to take funds by opening credit card accounts, renting homes or obtaining loans,” said Rex Wilmouth, director of Colorado Public Interest Research Group.Credit card companies, merchants, credit bureaus and other businesses do not adequately safeguard consumers’ private financial information, making it relatively easy for thieves to steal this data and use it to take out new credit or to rack up charges on existing accounts.The Federal Trade Commission estimates that it took the average victim of identity theft in 2004, 600 hours and an average of $1,495 to clear their name, and it took cases an average of two to four years to be resolved. This is up from 2000. To place a security freeze write one of the consumer reporting agencies, by certified or overnight mail, to request a security freeze be placed on your account. That consumer-reporting agency will notify the other two.In your letter provide your full name, address and previous address if applicable (include last two years of residence), social security number (they will not process your freeze without your SSN), date of birth, proof of current address (utility bill, bank, insurance statement, etc.) and a copy of government issued ID card (license, ID card, military ID, etc.).The three credit consumer reporting agencies are:- Equifax Security FreezeP.O. Box 105788Atlanta, GA 30348www.equifax.com – Experian Security FreezeP.O. Box 9554Allen, TX 75013www.experian.com – Trans Union Security FreezeP.O. Box 6790Fullerton, CA 92834-6790 http://www.transunion.comIn Colorado there is no fee to implement the freeze. It costs $10 to temporarily lift the freeze and $10 to permanently remove the freeze.
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