Growing crime is theft of identity |

Growing crime is theft of identity

A woman who had assumed 78 different identities – many of them belonging to real people – and allegedly committed dozens of crimes, was arrested last October on South Shore.

Christine Lombardi was sentenced in February to three years in a California prison, but one of her victims has spent the last six years trying to clear her name.

“Her credit history was completely ruined. She has almost been arrested several times for warrants out in her name, and she eventually had to get a new Social Security number,” Tim Breza of the California Highway Patrol told the Tribune in October. “Several of her identities were from real people. There were also a couple that used the names of people who died in California.”

Lombardi’s crimes are an extreme example of what, by all accounts, is becoming a growing problem across the country.

Identity theft refers to a variety of frauds perpetuated by criminals who steal personal information – Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, employment history – all of which make up a person’s identity. Criminals use that information to apply for credit cards in the victim’s name, take money from their checking accounts, or even to get a fake driver’s license.

“In extreme cases, the identity thief may completely take over his or her victim’s identity – opening a bank account, getting multiple credit cards, buying a car, getting a home mortgage and even working under the victim’s name,” Jodie Bernstein, of the Federal Trade Commission, told the United States Senate Judiciary Committee March 7.

More than 50,000 people are victims of identity theft each year, according to the United States Postal Service, and the Treasury Department estimates that annually stolen credit cards alone account for between $2 and $3 billion in losses.

In one case, according to Bernstein, an identity thief has died using the victim’s name, forcing them to correct a death certificate.

“It is a pretty big thing right now,” Postal Inspector Lot Steffey said. “The long and short of it is that people have numerous ways of stealing your information and it goes from there.”

Last month the Federal Trade Commission and the Treasury Department held a summit on how to better combat identity theft and last week Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill to do the same.

“We cannot allow American consumers to be left vulnerable to predators out to steal their good name,” Feinstein said. “This legislation implements a number of practical and concrete measures to close down the flow of private information to criminals.”

The bill will prevent credit bureaus from selling Social Security numbers, birth dates, and mothers’ maiden names to marketers. It will increase the maximum fine for misuse use of a Social Security number, allow everyone a free credit report each year, and change the way credit card companies handle requests for new credit cards or address changes.

Thieves often steal mail or go Dumpster diving to collect credit card offers or other identifying information. The Internet also provides crooks with a more high-tech means of taking identities and has prompted credit card companies to try and teach merchants better Internet security.

Late last year, a Russian hacker stole 300,000 credit card numbers from CD Universe and released thousands of them on a Web site when the music retailer refused to pay a ransom.

“If you don’t take measures to protect yourself, (the Internet) can become a playground for organized crime,” Stephen Orfei, vice president of emerging technologies at Mastercard, told The Associated Press last month.

“Thieves are getting more sophisticated and the Internet hasn’t helped any,” Postal Inspector Virgil Moore said. “Between it and thieves getting into your mail box they can slowly work their way into your identity and cause problems.”

How to prevent identity theft

By Bradley Foster

– Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery.

– Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection mailboxes or at your local post office. Do not leave in unsecured mail receptacles.

– Never give personal information – such as your Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, credit card numbers, or bank PIN codes – over the phone unless you initiated the phone call. Protect this information and release it only when absolutely necessary.

– Shred pre-approved credit applications, credit card receipts, bills and other financial information before throwing them away.

– Empty your wallet of extra credit cards and Id’s. It is even better to cancel cards you do not use.

– Order your credit report from a credit bureaus once a year to check for fraudulent activity and other errors.

– Never leave receipts at bank machines, in trash cans, or gas pumps. Keep track of all your paper work and destroy it when it is not needed.

– Memorize your Social Security number and all of your passwords. Do not record them on anything in your wallet or purse.

– Sign all new credit cards immediately.

– Save all credit card receipts and match them against your monthly bills.

– Never loan your credit cards to anyone else.

– Report all lost or stolen cards immediately.

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