Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 26, 2005


Host: Michael Grant

Identity Theft Special


  • Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America and Arizona has the highest rate of ID theft of any state in the nation. In this special edition of HORIZON, learn what you need to know to know about this growing crime and what you can do to protect yourself. Learn more.


View Transcript
>> Michael Grant:
The Federal Trade Commission reports that Arizona is tops in the nation for this growing crime.

>> Andrew Thomas/Maricopa County Attorney:
the fact that we are number one in the nation tells us we have a tremendous problem on our hands.

>> Michael Grant:
Identity thieves steal information from your mail, car. Many are drug addicts.

>> Paul Charlton/ U.S. Attorney, Arizona:
the met amphetamine problem is driving Arizona to be number one in identity theft.

>> Michael Grant:
Identity thieves obtain credit card and Social Security numbers.

>> Chuck Jirauch/Had ID information stolen:
Just don't know what they're going to do.

>> Michael Grant:
Identity theft can happen to anyone regardless of where you live, your age or education. Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona Senator McCain, had her identity stolen. Police and prosecutors, have dedicated more resources to combat this problem. Lawmakers have passed stiffer penalties for thieves, but education is seen as perhaps the best weapon against ID theft.

>> Sgt. Jason Davis/Phoenix Police:
We're already number one. If we don't take the steps to educate the public to protect themselves, educate businesses to protect their customers, if we don't start to do that it's just going to get worse.

>> Michael Grant:
Tonight, ID theft, why Arizona is number one. What you need to know about the growing crime and what you can do to protect yourself.

>> Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible by the friends of Channel 8, members who provide financial support to this Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
Good evening, I'm Michael Grant. Welcome to a special edition of Horizon. Unfortunately, the statistics don't lie. Arizona is number one in the nation for identity theft. More than 80,000 people victimized just last year. This according to the Federal Trade Commission which tracks this kind of crime. Larry Lemmons reports why Arizona has such a high rate of ID theft and the many ways you can get your identify stolen.

>> Sgt. Jason Davis:
Everyone is susceptible to this. When you're victimized by this, it affects your life because it affects your credit score, it affects the way you buy things, it affects your ability to buy things and to live your life the way you do now. You can't just ignore it if somebody else is using your identity.

>> Larry Lemmons:
You're watching a crime in progress. This thief has been caught on tape trying to break into these mailboxes. It shows that even with some precautions in place, some criminals will make an extra effort to steal from you. Mail theft is a precursor to identify theft. Arizona has become the number one state for identity theft. Why?

>> Paul Charlton:
The unfortunate reality is that Arizona has a terrific met amphetamine problem. And what that means is that met amphetamine addicts need to support their habit by breaking into mailboxes and attempting to make money by stealing people's identity. It's the met amphetamine problem that's driving Arizona to be number one in identity theft.

>> Brad Astrowsky/Maricopa County Attorney's Office:
They have no problem dumpster diving through all sorts of things. There up all night anyway. That's what meth does, it keeps them up all night and will allow them to painstakingly go through the process of harvesting data.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Recently a local woman convicted of ID theft appeared on "Horizon" to tell her how she did it. She wanted her identity to remain hidden.

>> I.D. Thief:
I had several people that would go out and steal mail, they would bring it back for form of payment, whether it was drugs or money. I would go through the mail and look for credit card statements, bank statements. Sometimes you would get the credit card itself. And I would use those to make purchases on the Internet or in person. At electronics stores. Use the credit cards to get cash back or take out cash.

>> Sgt. Jason Davis:
My personal experience over the last year going to search warrants where we are arresting the perpetrator, we see a lot of stolen mail and we see a lot of dumpster diving proceeds. By that I mean, you might find all of the garbage thrown out from say a doctor's office or all the garbage thrown out by a sporting goods store. And maybe they have the carbon copies from the hunting and fishing licenses they sold over the last year.

>> Larry Lemmons:
This is evidence seized by postal inspectors. Many people don't realize their ID's have been stolen until damage is done.

>>Greg Popp/U.S. Postal Inspector:
They're shocked, because they're not immediately notified. Most of the time when a checking account is opened or a line of credit is opened, they don't know about it until it goes to collections and a collections agency notifies them. These people are diverting the items to a different address, not their address. So it's getting run down through the collection agencies, through name, Social Security numbers, that's how they're finding out about it.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Not all ID thieves are meth users. Some are meticulous and well organized.

>> Terry Goddard/Arizona Attorney General:
We recently did an investigation and prosecution of a couple doing identity theft. They were a business. They had set up the loose-leaf notebooks on each of the victims. The information was incredibly complete. And they got it from a variety of sources, they got it from the dumpsters, they got it from going through information checks on computer and they would pose as that person and try to open credit accounts. These people could have been accountants; they kept exact records as to what passwords they used, exactly when they talked to anybody or a representative of the credit card company and how they did it.

>> Larry Lemmons:
Identity thieves don't have to be the same sex as the identity they're stealing.

>> I.D. THIEF:
This person is the husband; you have permission to use the card. Once you sign for it, it's done. People who work in stores are A, either gullible; or B, don't care. As long as they get their commission, it doesn't matter, you can pretty much tell them what you want.

>> Larry Lemmons:
According to a recent Javelin Strategy and Research Survey, an update of the Federal Trade Commission fraud report most cases of identity theft, by far, involve lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks or credit cards. That's followed by identities being stolen during a transaction, by friends and relatives, corrupt employees, and then by stolen mail. Computer software comes after that. Information taken from trash, computer viruses and finally by what's called phishing, or Email posing as legitimate business. If you have Email, you probably have seen these from Washington Mutual security or Pay Pal. These are attempts to get identity information from you.

>> Andrew Thomas:
They would send out Spam Email that impersonates financial or other institutions and asks for financial information, including Social Security numbers and sometimes people are led to give that information. They should know they should not do that if they don't recognize the person sending the information.

>> Larry Lemmons:
This advice can also apply to personal information gathering businesses. Choice Point sells background files on adult Americans. The company was defrauded by ID thieves posing as legitimate business. As many as 145,000 identities may have been compromised.

>> Terry Goddard:
Well, Choice Point, unfortunately, had a major invasion of their information and they started telling consumers in California because they had protective legislation such as I think we should have in Arizona, but they weren't telling anybody. We have written a smoking letter from AGs across the country basically saying you have a moral as well as legal obligation to let everybody know so people can protect themselves.

>> Larry Lemmons:
As ID thieves use sophisticated means to stay ahead of law enforcement, they have moved into the wireless arena. Using a laptop, hackers can steal information out of thin air if it is sent via wireless communication.

>> Terry Goddard:
Unfortunately in many cases, people inadvertently open their system to any hacker within a half-mile by using wireless technology.

>> Larry Lemmons:
ID theft has come a long way from simply breaking into a mailbox, but the effect on a victim of ID theft is just as devastating. The long process to clear a good name can be exhausting.

>> Paul Charlton:
One of the fastest growing crimes, it affects people in a personal way. In fact, I would say apart from crimes of violence, it's one of the most serious crimes that an individual can personally be affected by.

>> Michael Grant:
What to do if your identity is stolen. Get a pen and paper. Here's what ID theft experts suggest. First, alert the three credit reporting agencies and have a 90 day fraud alert placed on your credit file. Second, make a list of all your credit cards, bank accounts and utility accounts. Call each one, ask to speak to somebody in their fraud department. Third, call police and report the crime. Arizona law requires police officers to file a report if your identity has been stolen even if you didn't lose any money. Fourth, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-438-4338 or at ftc.gov. Finally, keep track of who you talk to, by creating a list and writing down the name, as well as the time and day. Such detailed notes could help you un-sort the financial damage. Want all these written down, plus all the phone numbers, addresses, and websites you'll need? Just contact us as our website. How have Arizona authorities reacted to the rapid increase in ID theft? Paul Atkinson profiles what law enforcement is doing about the fastest growing crime of the 21st century?

>> Richard:
-two houses, down off Campbell. It's a pretty decent neighborhood, kind of surprising. So the Phoenix PD is out there because there's a lot of activity.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Richard Atwood leads the search warrant briefing. The suspect is a trafficker in stolen identity. The United States postal inspection service will team with the Phoenix police tactical unit to storm the house. It's the fourth search warrant they'll have served this week. Local law enforcement has not taken the increase in ID theft lightly. The postal inspectors are part of an ID task force created in the summer of 2004 involving federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

>> Paul Charlton:
We have a number of different law enforcement agencies housed under one roof who are attacking this problem so we can bring together resources from state, local and federal venues to look at where the problem is and anticipate where the problem is going to go.

>> Paul Atkinson:
The tax force helps resolve issues over jurisdiction. Oftentimes the victim lives in one city and ID fraudulently used in another.

>> Doug Hilburn/U.S. Postal Inspector:
If you're in the city of Phoenix and a crime happens you call the Phoenix police. If you're in the city of Scottsdale, and a crime happens in Scottsdale, you're a resident there, you call Scottsdale police. When you're an identity theft victim and you live in one of the cities, and really, all the theft has occurred in another location, whether on line or stuff is shipped to a city like Avondale or something like that, who do you call? That's the problem. It's not as clear-cut on whose jurisdiction it is.

>> Matt:
the suspect involved got, I just got the charging complaint on him today. They charged him with fraud scheme.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Matt is one of several detectives assigned to the Phoenix police document bureau. The bureau handles more than 1700 ID theft cases, a 44\% increase from the previous year.

>> Sgt. Jason Davis:
Here at the Phoenix police department, they previously had two squads that worked what we call document crimes here in Phoenix. They worked embezzlement, forgery and identity theft. In January of 2004, we added a third squad. There are now three squads working in Phoenix on those issues, those types of cases. I think we need probably two more squads.

>> Paul Atkinson:
More than a half dozen prosecutors handle ID theft cases for the Maricopa County attorney's office. A special unit was created in August of 2004.

>> Brad Astrowsky:
It allows us to be more proactive, allows for specialization. When have you specialization, that's going to result in higher conviction rate and better service for victims. As well, I can see here as well, because I manage all the cases in the bureau, the trends. If we can start seeing the trends, we can develop strategies for prevention.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Brad Astrowsky heads the County Attorney's I.D. Theft Burro. Since the unit created last summer, it's seen an 60\% increase in the number of ID theft cases prosecuted. The County Attorney's office was also instrumental in creating a I.D. theft investigative unit.

>> Brad Astrowsky:
Identity thieves don't care about geographical lines or locations. They are going to commit identity theft in multiple cities. The city of Tempe may be working an investigation on the same individual as the city as Glendale may be working. They may not in the past have known that, we have this group with the sharing of information of reports and investigations, hopefully that will lead to better service for victims.

>>Paul Atkinson:
ID theft was not a specific crime until 1998. That year the Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence act, an act that carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. The same year, the Arizona Legislature mad identity theft a class 4 felonies punishable with up to three years in prison, although those convicted are typically eligible for probation. Soon after taking office the Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas spoke to the gathering of judges asking for more that a slap on the wrist for convicted identity thieves.

>> Andrew Thomas:
Probation should be a supplement to when stiffer felonies are involved. The most appropriate punishment is prison or jail. And to not use that when they're finally caught and convicted, to not use that, I think that's very wrong and sending a very bad message to these people.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Thomas and others in law enforcement would like to see those who traffic in stolen identities face harsher penalty.

>> Andrew Thomas:
We do have laws in the books, what we don't have are the laws that really target people who are using identity theft as a scheme, an enterprise. The people who are selling, buying and selling identities and using it for criminal purposes.

>> Paul Atkinson:
This is evidence taken by the ID theft task force through a recent search warrant. The case can be prosecuted in Superior Court or in federal court. Where prosecutors can seek mandatory minimum sentences after congress amended I.D. theft laws.

>> Paul Charlton:
One of the nice things about putting people under one roof is that you can look for the venue, the best spot to bring a case or to bring an investigation. We know for example, in the federal system we have a two-year minimum mandatory sentence. Sometimes that means the best place to bring them is federal court.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Ultimately, it may not be customers who lose money from ID theft but their bank. Local banks such as Bank One are fighting back by sharing information on ID theft.

>> Jim Huston/Bank One Fraud Dept.:
We get together, my peers. We're not in competition on how much money we lost. We share information, we talk about different things, we noticed things like this, ATM credit card scamming. We have law enforcement at our meetings.

>> Paul Atkinson:
The banks can also instantly share information with each other and police through a software program called Fraudnet.

>> Jim Huston:
And really what that is, is a database. You can put checks, information routing numbers, what that will do, if we have a fraud at the bank, I can say let me go to fraud net. A lot of times, the people are almost like gypsies, they will go all over the country and they will cash checks and do identity theft.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Banks and law enforcement have responded to the surge in ID theft by working together. They are also pushing for tougher laws. But they know that alone won't stop the growing problem.

>> Andrew Thomas:
If we don't start taking steps now to get this problem under control, that means prosecutors seeking legislation, police beefing up identity theft controls, we have done things in the Maricopa County attorney's office creating a bureau to deal with the program, we need to prevent the crime. That calls for getting businesses to take safeguards so they are protecting the identity of their customers better. If we don't do that now, if we don't start addressing the problem now, the problem is going to get worse. We're already number one in the nation.

>> Michael Grant:
This year lawmakers created a new aggravated ID theft category. Information on five or more people or who steal more than $3,000 face a class 3 felony, punishable up to 7 years in prison. Those arrested for trafficking the identity of another person face a class 2 felony punishable with up to 10 years in prison. Otherwise simply stealing someone's identity is a class 4 felony with a maximum three years in prison. Thieves never have to come into contact with you to steal your identity. In the past year alone, several major companies have notified more than 3 million people that their personal and financial information has been compromised. Merry Lucero has the story of one man who had all his financial information stolen but took the steps necessary to prevent them from using it.

>> Merry Lucero:
When you apply for a mortgage, you must hand over all of your personal financial and financial information and hope it's safe. When this attorney got a letter from his mortgage broker, it came as a shock.

>> Chuck Jirauch:
The letter advised that the office had been broken into, the only thing taken was the hard drive on their computer. And so clearly somebody was trying to get access to information on the borrowers that they represented. We were one of the borrowers on the system.

>> Merry Lucero:
Social Security numbers, bank accounts, investments, 401(k) plans, all of the family's financial information was now in the hands of potential identity thieves.

>> Chuck Jirauch:
You read about this happening all the time but you never think it will happen to you. That was my first reaction, this can't be possible, how can this happen. You have to get over that and do something about it.

>> Merry Lucero:
So, Jirauch jumped into action, he got a copy of his mortgage application so he knew what information the thieves had. He called all three credit bureaus and advised them what had happened. He called the credit card companies and bank accounts to change all of the account the numbers. He had automatic withdrawals from his checking account redirected to the new account. He kept a record of everyone he spoke with, plus the date and time of the call, one thing that really helped Jirauch avoid becoming an identity theft victim was keeping the records were all together and organized.

>> Chuck Jirauch:
It was a lot of work. That was just the beginning. I had to get a hold of investment accounts. My employer where they had information on my 401(k), my retirement fund and things of that nature. If anybody made any inquiry to them about my accounts, to immediately advise me not to answer any questions, told the same thing to the banks, to the investment groups we worked with.

>> Merry Lucero:
This type of situation is out of our control.

>> Sgt. Jason Davis:
He could do everything right, shred his documents, make sure the doctor shreds. It takes a burglary at his office.

>> Merry Lucero:
There are things you can do to protect yourself.

>> Paul Charlton:
Any time someone asks for your bank information or Social Security number, they're asking for your number. You need to think about those items in that way. When you do, when you think about your identification, as you would money, it's easy to see how it is you can be much more careful and treat with greater caution that kind of information. For example, your mailbox, you need a locking device on the mailbox or ask that the post office provide more security at the post boxes. And they're providing those now. Whenever you receive Email soliciting information, think about that information in the same way as if you were providing them with money. Whenever you receive correspondence from somebody asking that you respond, think about if you were giving away something of great value.

>> Andrew Thomas:
They send out Email that impersonates financial institutions and asks for things including Social Security numbers. Sometimes people are led to give that information. People should know they should not do that if they don't recognize the person asking for the information.

>> Terry Goddard:
Just because they say they're with your bank, doesn't mean that's true. Insist on a written confirmation or a call back. In our instant turn around society is not necessarily what people are doing or expecting. I still think it's the number one thing we need to have, a protective armor for consumers, justified in today's financial environment. Then to facilitate that, I would recommend a shredder, anything that comes in your house, that has your Social Security number, your name, address and phone number, any identifying data. Needs to be shredded.

>> Merry Lucero:
So, if you don't own a shredder yet, get one. Crosscut gives more protection. Depending on what you want to spend and how much you shred, office supply stores offer a full range.

>> Mike Hiller:
If you're the type that saves it up for a month and sit down to shred it, you're going to need a much heavier shredder. If you're the type of person that will shred it as get it, then a mid range, $69 to $99 will be fine for you.

>> Merry Lucero:
Don't forget to shred expired credit cards and CDs with information. Chuck's credit is intact. In the meantime, he checks his credit reports and watches for anything suspicious on his account.

>> Chuck Jirauch:
Every month when each one of our statements come in for the accounts we have, we review them to make sure there is nothing unusual. So far, knock on wood, that hadn't happened.

>>Michael Grant:
Since "Horizon" first aired these stories, the Maricopa County attorney's office has launched a public awareness campaign. Take a look.

>> Andrew Thomas:
I'm Andrew Thomas.

>> Andrew Thomas:
No, I'm Andrew Thomas.

>> Andrew Thomas
: I'm Andrew Thomas.

>> Andrew Thomas:
I'm Andrew Thomas, your Maricopa County attorney. Identity theft is a growing problem and it can happen to anyone. You can help protect yourself by taking some basic steps. Shred your documents before throwing them away. Don't leave mail in your mailbox. Don't give personal information on the phone or Internet unless you initiate the contact. To learn more about identity theft go to endidtheft.com.

Michael Grant:
To give you a few more tips to keep you from being a victim of identity theft. Eliminate paper bills or statements have them done online. Regularly check your bank accounts and credit cards on line. Don't respond to any telephone call or Email asking for your personal information unless you initiated the contact. Finally, you're entitled to free credit reports from each of the three credit reporting agencies, check them once a year to make sure your accounts are in good order. If you would like phone numbers or web addresses for the credit agencies or a complete list of prevention tips, please visit our website at www.az.pbs.org. You'll find a victim guide plus links to other resources with helpful information about ID theft. That's it for the special edition of "Horizon". Thank you very much for joining us this evening. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great one. Good night.

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