Identity theft jumps in GJ; how to stop it
Reports of identity theft in Grand Junction run significantly higher than the rate for Colorado overall, which ranks 11th nationwide in identity-theft reporting.
Grand Junction police logged 170 identity-theft reports in the past 12 months, a figure that’s up from 140 in the previous 12 months, police said. That’s a 21 percent increase over the previous year-long period.
Colorado had 3,961 identity-theft cases reported in 2010, according to the Federal Trade Commission. That’s a rate of nearly 79 per 100,000 people.
With a population of 58,566, Grand Junction’s reporting rate of about 268 per 100,000 people is well in excess of the state figure.
The rate can be misleading, Grand Junction Police Department spokeswoman Kate Porras said.
For instance, if a crime victim reported the theft of a computer and wallet leading to identity theft, “Our records would note each one of those crimes separately, where another agency might only record the most serious of the crimes listed in that same report in their records data,” Porras said.
Grand Junction police also take reports on many cases that other agencies might not, Porras said.
Nationally, the number of reported identity thefts most likely is only a fraction of the actual amount, which frequently is the case because few people know how and where to report such crimes, said Mike Prusinski, senior vice president of corporate communications for Lifelock Inc.
Identity-theft victims can put protections in place if they report the incidents to the Federal Trade Commission, http://www.ftc.gov, which tracks such incidents nationwide and makes information available to law enforcement, Prusinski said.
Reporting to the Federal Trade Commission also can get consumers on the way to helping themselves, Prusinski said.
“You can put protections in place. They’re normally temporary fixes, but people don’t know this,” he said.
Thousands of people, however, have been touched by identity theft, enough that it is the No. 1 complaint of consumers to the Federal Trade Commission for 11 years running and is considered the fastest-growing crime by the Social Security Administration.
Not all identity thefts, however, are the same.
Among all incidents reported to the Federal Trade Commission, the largest portion, 20 percent, is employment fraud, in which someone uses a false Social Security number to obtain employment.
Fifteen percent of identity thefts reported to the agency involved the use of false documents to obtain benefits such as food stamps or tax returns.
The Internal Revenue Service has noted there were 250,000 victims of identity theft via tax fraud, Prusinski said.
Next, at 14 percent, was telephone or utilities fraud, often the opening of a cell-phone account under a false name obtained by identity theft.
The crime most frequently associated with identity theft, credit-card fraud, accounted for 13 percent of reports, and the remainder was split among multiple other categories.
“The crime is actually changing its face,” Prusinski said.
“Credit card use is low-hanging fruit” and frequently used to obtain cell phones to be used in more lucrative fraud schemes, he said.
REVENGE TOOL IN DIVORCE
And, “ID theft is an unbelievable revenge tool when it comes to divorce,” he said.
Consumers can take several steps to prevent ID theft, tops among them is limiting use of their Social Security numbers.
Consumers should ask merchants why they need the personal identifier, how it’s stored and what they do if they lose the data, Prusinski said.
Consumers also should own and use shredders, he said.
“Identity thieves are great at social engineering,” so much so that they can parlay a collection of seemingly innocuous information into enough of a resume “that they can walk into a bank and pose as someone else to get a loan,” he said.
Consumers also should get annual credit reports from places such as http://www.annualcredit report.com, and look into fraud alerts or credit freezes, he said.
A credit freeze can cost $10 to $15 per credit bureau and can result in a phone call if someone applies for credit under the frozen account, he said.
Fraud alerts are less effective, because they last only 90 days and frequently are overlooked by merchants, many of whom actually end up on the hook for fraud, Prusinski said.