Identity theft becoming crime of choice

Bob Culver, Rockmart business owner and councilman, knows the reality of identity theft and fraud. His personal experience added weight to remarks made by Jeremy Hockman, special agent, United States Security Service, during a program Wednesday morning.

Culver told the crowd gathered at The Depot, Rockmart, about his experiences when he was a victim of identity theft. “Last April, I got a phone call from the Bank of Delaware and the fraud department advised me they saw something wrong with my credit card,” he said. Culver, who did not have a credit card with this bank, was informed he had a $6,000 balance. Later, he got another call. This one was from Chase bank with questions about his two credit cards — each with a balance of about $3,000. “I put a freeze on credit inquires,” he said. He also got a copy of his credit report, which revealed a card with the Bank of America had a balance of $27,000. Culver said his residence was listed as Palmdale, Calif., a state he has not visited. “They had all of my information and I don’t know how it was obtained,” he added. He encouraged those present to get a copy of their credit report and check it out.

Deputy Chief John Adams, Rockmart Police Department, provided information that focused on identity theft, which is a crime. He said that 2003 numbers give an idea of how widespread it is. That year, a total of 9.9 million victims were listed in the United States with $4,800 as an average loss per person. The total loss of business was $47.8 billion.

Hockman said fraud and identity theft is becoming more the crime of choice than drugs. “It is more prosperous and the amount of time in jail is not as severe,” he said. “In drug transactions, there is always the threat of violence that is not seen in identity theft.” During his presentation, Hockman also advised the group about counterfeit awareness. “Know your money,” he said. “If your business gets a counterfeit bill and it is sent to the bank, they will identify and put it on a specific federal form.” He said the information would be sent to “our office”. If there are facts about where the bill originated, a phone call will be made to determine who is passing the money.

Hockman emphasized that security on bills was changed in 1996 and encouraged business owners to train staff to be aware of how to identify counterfeit bills. He focused on the fact that the “pen method” may not always work, especially on bleached money. “The best way to identify a fake bill is to look for color-shifting ink in the lower right-hand corner.” The color shifts from green to black, as the note is tilted 45 degrees. The $10, $20 and $50 bills have color-shifting ink that changes from cooper to green.

Rockmart Mayor Curtis Lewis, who is also a businessman, attended the event. He said the average person does not realize how counterfeit money can undermine the integrity of the dollar. “Hopefully, the police department will help make it easier to know how to recognize a fake bill,” he added. LuAnn Davenport, Georgia State Bank, said the program was a great way to bring businesses together to learn about identity theft and other crimes from law enforcement agents. Ken Suffridge also lauded the program, which he said he prefers rather than meetings held in early evening.

The program was the first of several to be presented by the Polk County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Committee led by Laron Maloney, Laura Bates and Mary Miller.

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