|7/23/2005 – If you’ve ever bought a product on a Web site, you could be a victim.
If you’ve ever thrown out old checks without shredding them, you could be a victim.
If you’ve ever lost your wallet, you could be a victim.
Even by using your credit or debit card at the grocery story, you could be a victim of identity theft.
At age 18, Seymour resident Spring Hosmer became just such a victim when a stranger used her Social Security number to obtain a credit card and a cell phone in her name. Hosmer had lost her purse but never imagined someone would use her Social Security card.
“It was scary,” Hosmer, now 20, said of the incident. “You never think something like that is going to happen to you.”
But the number of such incidents in Jackson County is increasing, Seymour Police Department Detective Chris Franklin said.
“We are seeing more of this type of crime occurring here,” Franklin said. “People are finding new ways to commit old crimes.”
Indiana State Police Post District Investigations Commander Robert Bays agreed, saying his department saw an increase of reported identity theft cases beginning in 2003.
“If you look back from a couple of years ago to where we are now, there is a definite increase,” Bays said. “We don’t receive hundreds of calls, but each year we have a few more.”
In 1999 and 2001, no cases were investigated, Bays said. But since 2003, the department has been investigating about a dozen a year. Only half way through this year, the department has already had 12 cases reported.
Many victims, few arrests
According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 10 million Americans became victims of identity theft in the past year alone. Although it’s not what Franklin calls an epidemic in Seymour, he does expect to see more cases.
“There are a few arrests,” he said. “But it’s often a very difficult crime to trace. That’s why it’s the fastest-growing form of crime in the United States.”
Bays said several factors play into the difficulty of making an arrest.
“A lot of these cases begin on the Internet where there is no paper trail to follow,” he said. “We also run into jurisdictional problems because identity thiefs often commit the crime in another state or country.”
Franklin was not able to give an accurate count of the number of identity theft complaints, because no corresponding search option exists in the Seymour Police Department’s computer database. A search option will most likely be added soon, Franklin said.
But even with that change, many people opt not to file a police report, so many incidents go unreported, Franklin said. But it is important to contact the police, for two reasons, he added.
“First of all, a police report gives the victim paper confirmation the crime took place,” Franklin said. “Some banks require such a report before helping the victim get his or her money back. Second, it helps us find and charge people who are committing this crime.”
Hosmer did file a police report, but as far as she knows, no one was arrested. She was able to find out the identity thief in her case was a 40-year-old mother. When Hosmer tried to obtain a cell phone for herself, the wireless company told her she already had an account. By looking at its records, the company was able to determine the age of the woman and that she was not from Seymour.
“It shocked me when they said I already had a cell phone. I thought it was a mistake,” Hosmer said. “All I can say is, I hope the woman was poor and trying to get some money for her kids.”
Besides filing a police report, Franklin recommends victims call their bank, credit card company, local Social Security office and bureau of motor vehicles, as well as the three major credit bureaus, to report fraud.
“Unfortunately, this happens to a lot of people,” Franklin said. “We urge people to make sure forms they are filling out or items they are ordering online are legit. It’s also important not to give out personal information like bank account numbers and Social Security numbers unless you have to.”
Bays said identity theft requires more victim involvement than any other crime.
“Victims have to work hard and spend a lot of money and time to get back what they lost,” he said.
The ISP Post in Seymour provides a packet to victims that includes information on what steps to take to correct the problems and to prevent them from happening again.
“It’s like a to-do check list,” Bays said. “The list helps keep you organized in what you need to do and who you need to call.”
Diane Trout-Cummins, marketing director at Home Federal Bank in Seymour, said banks are constantly working on ways to help customers protect themselves from identity theft. Home Federal has held seminars on the subject in the past and plans to continue doing so, she said. A seminar on elder theft will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Aug. 3 at the Seymour Community Center.
“We’re currently developing safety tips and other services to help protect our customers,” Trout-Cummins said. “They aren’t finalized yet but will most likely be introduced this fall.”
For Hosmer, the incident was a hard-learned lesson that changed the way she goes about certain tasks.
“I don’t give my Social Security number to anyone,” she said. “If an application or form asks for it, I leave it blank.”
Although her credit was affected, Hosmer got the problem cleared up.
“The whole situation made my credit really bad,” she said. “But by getting copies of my credit report and notifying the credit bureaus, I was able to get it cleared up in a couple of months. It was more of a hassle than anything.”
Hosmer realizes she was lucky, because in some cases, identity theft can go on for years before it is detected.
“If I hadn’t caught it as quickly as I did, I could have been in a lot more trouble,” she said.
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