Meeting planned on ID theft

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The Steamboat Springs Police Department is holding a meeting Thursday to educate people about the fastest-growing crime in America: identity theft.

Steamboat Springs is among the many communities in the United States that has seen a dramatic upswing in the number of identity thefts reported. On Thursday night, police hope to educate residents about what they can do to protect themselves against the crime.

"I really urge people to come and take those steps to learn how they can take precautions and not become a victim," Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said.

The meeting, starting at 6 p.m. at Centennial Hall, also will allow residents to ask questions of the police department. Officer Dwight Murphy will show a video about his experiences in Iraq.

Identity theft is when someone uses another person's personal information to obtain credit or services, make purchases, cash checks or apply and receive loans in the victim's name.

In most cases, the thieves need only three pieces of information: a name, date of birth and Social Security number. With that information, they can take out loans, apply for credit cards, open phone or utility accounts, establish bank accounts and write bad checks.

The Federal Trade Com--mission estimated that in 2002, 10 million people were victimized by identity theft. In 2003, its estimate increased to 30 million.

Almost every person with reasonable credit and financial strength will have his or her identity stolen within the next few years, police say.

The average victims spend more than $1,100 and almost 200 hours trying to salvage their credit rating and reclaim their identities after they are stolen.

Steamboat Springs and Routt County are not strangers to identity theft and have seen a dramatic increase from five years ago, when the crime was almost nonexistent.

"We take reports on it all the time," Rae said about identity theft.

The most frequent type of identity theft is when a new credit card is opened in a victim's name or the victim's credit card is used unlawfully.

But the area also has seen other types of identity fraud.

The Sheriff's Office had a case in which a Routt County resident originally from Illinois learned her Social Security number was being used by illegal immigrants near her hometown. She found out about the identity theft when she applied for a cell phone account and discovered one already was set up under her Social Security number.

Five cases of identity fraud were reported along Routt County Road 129 or roads connecting to it. None of the residents shopped online, leaving Sheriff's Office officials to conclude that their information had been taken from their mailboxes.

The police department had a business report that an overseas customer wanted to buy its product, but was asking for more information than what was needed to transfer money into the business's bank account. That information could have been used to take money out of the business's bank account.

And one woman had her identity stolen by a crime ring in Houston, which was caught and is being prosecuted.

The police also caught three organized groups at a Steamboat hotel that had set up a fraud ring.

The Federal Trade Com--mission advises people to order copies of their credit reports, which would allow them to check for all credit cards or bank accounts under their name and verify whether they had been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy.

The commission also suggests using passwords for credit cards, bank accounts and phone service. It warns not to use common and easy-to-guess passwords such as a mother's maiden name, birth date, the last four digits of a Social Security number or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening a new account, the commission advised to use a password even for applications that ask for the applicant's mother's maiden name.

Two other pieces of advice the commission gives is to secure personal information at home and to ask about security procedures at work.

"It's everything from shredding documents to keeping personal information secret so people don't gain access to it," Rae said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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