Identity theft complaints on the rise
The Janesville area had a 5.6 percent increase in identity theft complaints in 2008, far below the 29 percent increase statewide, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Complaints in Janesville increased from 141 in 2007 to 149 in 2008, the FTC reported.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office saw a spike in identity theft complaints last year, Detective Warren Yoerger said.
The most common type of identity theft reported to the sheriff’s office involves the thief using another person’s credit card to buy items online, Yoerger said.
Another common scheme involves the thief using a person’s Social Security number and date of birth to obtain a credit card, phone or utility services, he said.
The Janesville Police Department has seen the number of identity theft cases remain steady in the past few years, Lt. Tim Hiers said.
People might give another person’s real name and date of birth when they’re arrested or pulled over, Hiers said.
Illegal immigrants also have used the identities of legal residents to remain in the country and work, he said. Often, the suspects are in another state and don’t know the victims.
Other cases involve the theft of financial records, credit card numbers and online fraud, he said.
The 1.2 million identity theft complaints reported to the FTC in 2008 were the most ever, compared to 800,000 complaints in 2007.
The tough economy contributed to the rise because people are desperate for money, said Mike Prusinski, a spokesman for LifeLock, an identity theft prevention company.
And identity theft is one of fastest growing crimes in America, he said.
The crimes are difficult to solve because the suspects can be anywhere in the world, Hiers and Yoerger said. And investigations require lots of resources and multiple agencies.
“It takes a lot of man hours, and the most frequent ones are using the credit card online, and frequently that leads to a location out of state and even out of country,” Yoerger said.
Identity thefts also are difficult to track because of long paper trails, out-of-state banks and other issues, Hiers said.
Investigators also need to focus on drug and violent crimes, he said.
“Identity theft is important, but it is only a small part of what we do here,” Hiers said.
The Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips to avoid identity theft:
- Protect your Social Security number.
- Treat your trash and mail carefully.
- Be careful while on the Internet.
- Select complex passwords.
- Verify a source before sharing information.
- Safeguard your purse or wallet.
- Store personal information in secure locations.