Originally created 01/14/02

Taking many forms, identity fraud is on rise



In Atlanta, someone bought a luxury home by using the Social Security number of a 10-year-old boy.

In San Diego, someone else test-drove a Ford Escort in the name of a famous baseball player and never returned the vehicle.

In Augusta, three people were arrested two weeks ago on charges of stealing an elderly woman's personal information to finance a $23,000 car.

Considered the fastest- growing white-collar crime today, identity fraud can be as simple as stealing a credit card or as complex as taking out numerous loans in someone else's name.

For the victims, the thefts often lead to headaches while they try to get back money and restore ruined credit ratings.

"Truth is if you have a Social Security number, and you have good credit, then there's nothing you can do to prevent it because there's so many ways out there to go ahead and access that information and make use of it," FBI Agent Brian Buckley said.

Agent Buckley, who works in the FBI's Atlanta office and speaks to businesses about the dangers of identity fraud, said authorities are forced to chase faceless criminals.

"I recently got a call from Columbus, Ohio, where the (victim) had 45 loans all fraudulent, all applied for over the Internet," he said. "We have no idea what the person looks like or persons. The people got away with very large sums of money, and what do we have to go after?"

But the hijacking of personal information can be as low-tech as someone digging around in a trash can, said Lt. Ed Harris of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

"One of the main problems we have, and people do it all the time, is they go to the bank, the ATM or the store where they charge on their charge card and they just throw the receipts in the trash," he said.

Authorities refer to it as "Dumpster diving," when thieves dig through household garbage for access to credit card numbers, which are often printed in entirety on monthly statements or even store slips.

"Tear them up, dispose of them completely," Lt. Harris said.

"It's just using good common sense about putting information out there."

VICTIM RESPONSE

What to do if you become a victim of identity fraud:

  • Report the crime to police.
  • Call all your credit card companies to help save you from paying for the fraudulent charges.
  • Contact all three major credit reporting agencies:
  • Equifax: (800) 525-6285

    Experian: (888) 397-3742

    Trans Union: (800) 680-7289

    Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.