In this article in the Daily Press in 2008, I explored the growing problem of identity theft.
David Macaulay, The Daily Press, June 29, 2008
HAMPTON — The fast-growing crime of identity theft conjures up notions of shadowy strangers diving into dumpsters to find personal information.
But for many victims, the threat is closer to home.
It often involves family members, friends, colleagues and partners, according to police.
Hampton police arrested 35-year-old Gladys Arrizza this month and charged her with 11 counts of identity fraud. They claim she applied for credit cards on the Internet under her ex-boyfriend’s name, running up thousands of dollars of debt.
“She started using two of his credit cards,” said Detective Randy Mayer of the Hampton police. “When he realized that, he kicked her out of the house and split off with her.”
About six months later, when he applied for credit, the man checked his credit report and realized there were 11 additional credit cards that had been opened in his name without his knowledge, police say.
More than $13,000 had been charged to his cards, Mayer said.
Arrizza was charged with 11 counts of identity theft/fraud, 11 counts of credit card fraud and 11 counts of obtaining goods using stolen credit cards.
Mayer said Arrizza opened up a post office box to keep the bills from being sent to her ex-boyfriend and made minimum payments by opening up new credit cards and transferring the money to pay old debts.
Mayer said the Internet has made it easier to steal someone else’s identity.
“It’s becoming a really huge problem the way the economy is,” Mayer said. “What’s really surprising to me is the amount of close friends and relatives that are doing it. That’s probably because it’s easier to obtain the information.
“A lot of my cases are even grandchildren or aunts and uncles.”
He said the first place the thieves are using stolen cards is at gas stations, where they fill up on expensive fuel.
“That’s huge. There are embezzlements where employees have company credit cards. They are using them to fill up their own gas tanks. We are seeing a rash of that,” Mayer said.
Newport News police also have seen a large increase in identity theft reports over the last decade, although they don’t break down fraud cases as specifically as Hampton.
“We are extremely busy. We are inundated with reports,” said Newport News Detective Lorain Crain, who is also on the Hampton Roads Regional Crime Task Force.
Crain said that while she does see some “black sheep” cases where someone may steal a family member’s identity, most of her cases involve suspects who are not known to the victim.
She said many identity fraud cases are prosecuted through the federal system – if they are serious enough – because more stringent sentences are usually passed down.
And although there have been instances of thieves digging through trash, a practice that is legal under a Supreme Court decision of 1988, most identity thefts are crimes of opportunity.
“Most people are too lazy to dig through trash,” said Hampton police spokeswoman Allison Good.
Mayer said that in the 14 years he has dealt with identity theft, it has grown as a crime.
“Dealing specifically with it now it seems overwhelming,” he said.
Over the past three years, Hampton police have dealt with more than 1,000 cases of identity theft or fraud.
There were 442 reports in 2006, 416 in 2007, and 218 reports have been made so far this year.
“It seems like we might see a slight increase on last year,” said Good.
Along with the ease of the Internet, police say new technology also makes it easier to create fraudulent checks.
Hampton and Newport News detectives are currently working a large fraudulent-check case that has already led to seven arrests in the last month.
Mayer said checks have been made with a company logo and the names of the suspects’ friends are printed on them. The suspects then use their own identification to cash them.
“The checks look very real. They have also gone out and stolen other people’s IDs. Then they use those IDs to cash these checks. They print the name on the check. When I try to pull up the name on the check it comes back to the victim who was at a shopping center,” Mayer said.
Angela Blythe, 23, of Roanoke Avenue in Newport News, was arrested on June 16 and charged with two counts of identity fraud and obtaining money by false pretenses for her alleged involvement in the check scam.
Blythe is accused of stealing a friend’s ID. And when she was arrested, Mayer said, Blythe looked a lot like the victim looked on her identification.
TO PREVENT IDENTITY THEFT
* Run regular credit checks. They can be accessed via http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
* Shred all documents that you intend to discard.
* Never give information in response to e-mails supposedly from financial institutions that ask for personal information.
* Don’t write your bank account PIN on paper.
* Don’t carry your Social Security number on you.
* Don’t leave personal documents in your car.
* Don’t leave personal items in a handbag in a shopping cart unattended.
* If you are a victim of identity theft, call the credit company immediately to report it.
* Keep a list of credit card companies you have accounts with in case your cards are stolen.
Source: Hampton Police Division
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