Identity theft cases on the rise

JIM KINNEY, The Saratogian
3/6/2006 – SARATOGA SPRINGS — A Long Island man is accused of running up $15,000 on stolen credit cards in Wilton and Saratoga Springs in just 24 hours.

According to the state police, the two victims in this case, both local, noticed the charges last August and reported them to troopers, who spent months tracking down the case.

Fadil Kacanic, 50, of Island Park, faces several felonies, including identity theft.

Identity theft is a growing crime encompassing everything from stolen credit cards to account numbers pilfered by Internet phishing scams and the ever-popular foreign lottery scam.

The crime as a felony has only been on the books since 2002, but according to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, 17,000 New Yorkers are victimized by identity thieves each year.

Victims include Assemblyman James Tedisco of Schenectady, who had to chase down reports of a fake Tedisco trying to pass bad checks around his own Assembly district. Another local case involved a California man who shares a name with a man from Albany. The Albany man used the California man’s credit to get loans in Saratoga Springs.

Like the alleged victims in the Kacanic case, that crime came to light only when the Californian noticed odd activity on a store credit account at Sam’s Club.

Now, the state Legislature is considering a law that would make it easier for people to ‘freeze’ their credit and block all lending activity for fear of losing their identity.

The state AARP is pushing for the legislation, but wants to be sure the freezing and unfreezing are free.

According to a survey of New York state residents conducted by the AARP of New York, 40 percent of likely voters are extremely concerned about identity theft issues and another 30 percent are very concerned.

‘I get three of these cases a week,’ said state police Investigator Mark Brown.

Brown is based with the computer crime unit at State Police Headquarters in Loudonville.

Increasingly, those conducting the crimes are overseas, where Brown can’t get to them. He’s dealt with cases that originated in the former Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe and Africa, particularly in Nigeria.

‘If you won the lottery there, you’d better hit delete,’ Brown said, referring to a common Internet scam where people are told they have to pay a fee to collected Nigerian lottery winnings.

No one at Saratoga National Bank and Trust Co. puts the customer files they want to work with the next morning out on their desk the night before. Doing something as basic as leaving a file on a desk overnight compromises the bank’s security and the customer’s personal security, said bank President Raymond O’Conor.

‘We even turn off the fax machine at night, so if anything comes in that has a customer’s information during the night, it isn’t sitting on top of the fax machine,’ he said.

People have to be just as careful with their own information by shredding documents and keeping track of their mail, he advises.

The bank’s efforts include sending real-looking fake phone company workers to branches in an effort to try to talk their way into the bank’s computer room. Once inside, a thief could make off with a treasure trove of account data.

‘It’s happened at other institutions,’ O’Conor said. ‘Not here.’

Within the past couple of years, a federal bank inspector was denied access because he had left his credentials in his hotel room.

‘They wouldn’t let him in,’ O’Conor said. ‘He even had business cards with his name on them, but anybody can get those. He couldn’t talk his way into the place.’

O’Conor knew the inspector personally and vouched for him.

Charles Folensbee, CEO of Saratoga’s Community Credit Union, said his institution gave away a home shredder as a premium with home equity loans last year.

‘We do a lot of member education,’ he said. ‘Our Web site warns against these fishing schemes.’

He said he even gets several e-mails a day asking him for account information.

‘Whether it says it’s from Chase or some other institution, it always says, ‘If you don’t give us this information right away, you may lose access to your account’ or something like that,’ he said.

Banks don’t ask for such information that way, though, he said. The e-mailers are scammers.

The credit union has gone to the step of banning cell phones from its office lobby on Division Street. In part, it’s an enforced bit of civility.

‘Someone talking on a cell phone might be holding up the tellers and keeping them from moving on to other members,’ he said.

Then there is the other type of ‘hold up.’ Many cell phones have cameras that could capture account information or, more likely, the bank’s physical layout.

‘It used to be you’d worry about people hanging out in the lobby. Now all you have to do is take a couple pictures and walk back out,’ Folensbee said.

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