2015-04-22 / Front Page

Crime Chat With DA Brown: Identify Theft

BY QUEENS DISTRICT ATTORNEY RICHARD BROWN

Among the fastest growing crimes in our digital world today is identity theft. Perhaps because much of our world is now digitally-based, from computers to cell phones, the availability of what was once private and personal information is far more accessible to creative and motivated thieves. Constant vigilance concerning your personal financial information and status is therefore required.


In 2013, over 13 million Americans were victims of identity theft, with an estimate of one person being victimized every two seconds, for a total cost of over $24 trillion nationwide. My office remains at the forefront of the battle against identity theft. Within my office is a specially trained bureau composed of senior prosecutors and investigators armed with cutting edge tools to ferret out criminal enterprises involved in the trafficking of stolen identities. In fact, my office has successfully investigated and prosecuted many of the largest identity theft cases nationwide, including the largest ever reported in which eleven defendants were involved in a major criminal enterprise. While my office is very aggressive in rooting out, investigating, and prosecuting all manner of identity theft rings, it is important for every citizen to be ever-vigilant concerning their own financial identity and security.


Identity thieves look to obtain personal identifying information such as one’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, credit card number, mother’s maiden name, and the like to enable them to impersonate victims and access their money and credit.  The identity thief may obtain this information in any manner of ways, including actual contact with the victim during a financial transaction, stealing or redirecting mail, going through trash, stealing invoices or business records, picking pockets and hacking into information stored or transmitted over the over the internet.


Once thieves obtain this valuable personal information, they can open credit cards and bank accounts, obtain loans and even transfer property in the name of the victims.  Unfortunately, the crimes that thieves can perpetrate in hours could potentially cost victims and law enforcement months in following the paper trail, identifying all the conspirators, seizing evidence and prosecuting the perpetrators, as well as the time spent by the victim and financial institutions in repairing tarnished credit ratings and the victim’s personal financial status.


While there is no guaranteed way to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft, there are certain tried and true tactics you can exercise to avoid becoming a victim and minimize the resulting damage to your credit standing.  Some of these things are:


Order a copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.  Each citizen can obtain one free report a year. If you are not taking out any loans in the near future, put a freeze on your credit by contacting each of the three credit reporting agencies.


•Place passwords on your credit card, bank, and phone accounts.
•Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you are dealing with. Secure personal information in your home.
•Guard your mail and trash from theft.
•Don’t carry your social security card and keep it in a secure place. Carry only the identification and number of credit cards you need.
•Pay attention to your billing cycles and your bills. Be wary of promotional scams.
•Destroy unused convenience checks.


If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of being a victim of identity theft, there are a number of things which you should do as soon as possible.  Place a fraud alert on your credit report and review the credit report to see if there are any accounts you are unaware of. Any account which has been tampered with should be closed immediately.  A report should be filed with your local police precinct and the Federal Trade Commission.  You should also contact my office at 718-286-6673 and file a complaint with my Economic Crimes Bureau. I will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute these crimes. Remember, my office is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with experts available to assist law enforcement and the public to accomplish our mission of insuring the safety of the public. Thank you.


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