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NEW ORLEANS – A stolen driver’s license and a medical insurance card with an individual’s social security number has a street value of $200-$250, enough to buy a drug user’s next fix. Credit cards and ATM cards with personal identification numbers written on the back – pardon the expression – sweeten the pot. With more than 3,000 occurrences daily across the U.S., identity theft is the fastest growing crime because it pays well and carries little risk. Identity theft is the unauthorized use of someone’s personal information for unlawful purposes, such as purchasing goods or services. Stolen wallets, backpacks, briefcases and purses is the most common way personal identification is compromised, according to Key Budge, a veteran detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Mail theft and “dumpster diving” are next, followed by stolen vehicles, residential and business burglaries and e-mail scams. Budge shared his insights with credit union professionals at the TechMecca 2005 technology conference and expo held here Feb. 14-16. “Unfortunately, an individual’s personal information is not used by just one crook,” Budge said. “It’s passed around and shared with other crooks, so that law enforcement officials have a harder time tracking down the perpetrators.” Although identity theft perpetrators are not gender or age specific, the most victimized demographic is men and women between the ages of 30-39. “This age group tends to have busy personal schedules and does not spend a lot of time checking their finances. They often have a work hard, play hard mentality and enjoy buying `toys,’ such as boats, cars, motorcycles, etc.” Budge stressed that all people, but particularly this demographic segment, need to regularly check their credit reports and financial account activity. “Identity theft is driven by drugs,” Budge continued, “namely methamphetamines. Ring leaders are the street level guys who have graduated. They want to put on a business suit and earn the six-digit income. These people have `mules,’ or underlings who obtain the personal information for them,” Budge said. Criminals will find a way around any technology, including manufacturing devices to capture personal information at point-of-sale terminals or automated teller machines from magnetic stripes on ATM, credit or debit cards. Budge said that while credit union personnel might easily recognize these contraptions, the average consumer is often duped. Identity theft is so profitable, Budge said, that residential burglars place a premium on home computers, laptop computers and PDAs. He has even seen burglars take only the hard drive from a computer and leave the box. Identity theft crime investigations are hampered by several factors, including bank privacy laws. Time is of the essence in building a case against a suspect. One way financial institutions can speed investigations is by having a victimized accountholder sign an affidavit allowing the release of information relating to the investigation. “Merchants, financial institutions and law enforcement are just starting to get a handle on the size of this crime and to work together to solve this huge problem,” he said. Identity theft is a debilitating crime. Budge estimated that a victim can plan on spending 200-400 hours of his own time to resolve credit issues if his personal information is compromised. Expenses and losses can range from $1,000-$1,500. “The cold reality for the victim is just recovery, trying to put his or her credit history back together,” Budge said. Ultimately, financial institutions and retailers bear the weight of the losses. What can they do to eliminate these crimes? “The key is educating businesses and consumers on how the crimes are being committed. We’ve got to train the public sector on how to identify fraud suspects and documents. We’ve got to train the public on how to protect their information and identities. We need to work with the media on informing the public of new crime trends. And, we need to alert businesses to properly dispose of client information.” Crime trends that law enforcement officials are seeing currently include criminals purchasing merchandise online with stolen credentials and having it delivered to a motel. The criminals track delivery information online and know when the delivery driver will be arriving. They then meet the driver in the parking lot, so the delivery cannot be traced to a motel room or person. Goods are re-sold or traded within minutes of receiving the merchandise. Even dropping off mail at a USPS drop box is not always safe, Budge said. “Sometimes crooks will put plastic bags attached by magnets inside a remote post office drop box and collect the mail before the postal worker comes to pick it up. Then, they just go through and take whatever personal information they want. It’s safest to drop your mail inside a post office building.” -

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