Law enforcement officers, prosecutors and private-sector fraud investigators say new technology and laws are needed to help prevent identity theft crimes in Washington and prosecute increasingly crafty and covert criminals.
“We’ve come a long way in our fight against identity theft. Now it’s time to regroup, reassess then reload our weapons in this battle,” said Attorney General Rob McKenna. “We’re bringing that multi-jurisdictional approach to organized identity theft through improved coordination, while also developing new legislation and victim assistance strategies.”
McKenna and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, co-chairs of Washington’s Law Enforcement Group against Identity Theft (LEGIT), convened a group of 90 law enforcement officials, victims’ advocates and representatives from the retail and financial industries at a summit on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008. Participants recapped successes since the Attorney General’s 2005 Identity Theft Summit, discussed current identity theft trends and brainstormed solutions.
Some of the suggestions mentioned during the summit:
-Developing a shared database of information about identity theft cases to assist with investigations and streamline reporting processes for victims. A presentation by a representative of the Utah Attorney General’s Office about a reporting system called IRIS was well-received.
-Applying facial recognition software to all Washington drivers’ licenses photos and business licenses.
-Appointing a special prosecutor to handle organized retail identity theft cases.
-Either requiring businesses to verify Social Security numbers when processing applications for instant credit or receiving a commitment from businesses that they will do so.
-Building a repository of computer IP addresses to aid in investigations.
-Creating new identity theft educational campaigns to better target specific audiences, including youth, seniors and businesses.
Representatives of the Spokane County and King County prosecutors’ offices, U.S. Attorneys’ Office in Seattle, Social Security Administration, U.S. Postal Service, Secret Service, State Patrol and FBI shared examples of threats now facing Washington residents, including
-Increased car prowls where personal information is stolen. Thieves are stealing wallets and purses from cars, removing credit and debit cards and then returning the wallets and purses to the car. By the time victims notice their cards have been taken, the thieves have already bought gift cards or other items.
-Organized crime rings recruiting individuals to obtain jobs where they have access to Social Security numbers, credit accounts other personal information.
-Mail theft and fraudulent change of address requests.
-Identity thieves making purchases online, by phone or at places where an account number, but not the actual card is needed.
-Thieves waiting to use stolen information to make it less likely for law enforcement and victims to know how or when the information was obtained.
-Botnets, infected computers capable of being manipulated by spammers and hackers.
“Sometimes identity theft is simply a crime of opportunity committed by the meth addict who’s driving up and down the street opening mailboxes. Other times, it’s part of an organized crime ring because there’s a lot of money to be made,” McKenna said. He noted that even though the number of identity theft cases being reported nationally has declined, studies show the losses from identity theft have not shrunk.
Cons are already taking advantage of the current financial crisis.
“With the economy tanking, identity theft and fraud crimes could go through the roof,” said Lana Weinmann, chief of the Attorney General’s Criminal Division. “They’re crimes of need and greed.”
Representatives of the state Office of Crime Victims’ Advocacy and the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division discussed the challenges of assisting victims and educating the public about how to prevent identity theft.
“Identity theft makes you nervous about your security in much the same way as someone breaking into your house,” Satterberg said. “It’s very personal and we need to treat it that way.”
LEGIT members are reviewing ideas from the meeting and are compiling a summary report. For information, visit www.atg.wa.gov/.