Article withdrawn by author

Written by Article withdrawn by author

Article withdrawn

The Thief Is In The Mail

Written by Identity Theft 911

29 January 2004 The car doors slam. The wheels screech. The teenagers pilotrepparttar speeding car downrepparttar 127556 pavement intorepparttar 127557 darkness; a crash is heard. That's whenrepparttar 127558 public service message appears atrepparttar 127559 bottom ofrepparttar 127560 TV screen: Lock your car. Take your keys.It seems strange today to think that once upon a time, people needed to be told that leaving their keys in an unlocked car might be a bad idea. Atrepparttar 127561 time, though,repparttar 127562 wake-up call was very much in order. The world was changing fast. So wererepparttar 127563 risks of living in it.Flash forward 40 years to Memphis, Tennessee, inrepparttar 127564 early years ofrepparttar 127565 21st century. A 49-year-old woman stares atrepparttar 127566 surveillance monitor, watching in disbelief as a surreal scene unfolds on her front porch. A man bundled up in a heavy jacket and hat ringsrepparttar 127567 bell, then knocks loudly onrepparttar 127568 door. Getting no answer, he glances atrepparttar 127569 silent intercom, calmly removesrepparttar 127570 outgoing mail from her mailbox, and walks away.It's 10:00 a.m., and Bethany Overton's identity has just been stolen. Also missing isrepparttar 127571 updated version of that government warning:Lock your mailbox. Take your keys.Identity theft: Not just an online crime Identity theft is America's fastest-growing crime. Last year alone, more than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft a 41 percent increase overrepparttar 127572 year before at a cost torepparttar 127573 U.S. economy of roughly $53 billion. In reality,repparttar 127574 number of identity theft victims andrepparttar 127575 economic impact ofrepparttar 127576 various crimes involved from mail theft to Internet fraud were probably even higher. And as identity thieves find new ways of stealing people's identifying information and new ways of abusing it, these crimes are expected to proliferate at an even faster rate.It's commonly assumed thatrepparttar 127577 current fraud epidemic has its roots online. In fact, identity theft often begins with mail theft: letters and packages stolen from unlocked or unprotected mailboxes often placed along rural or suburban roads or grouped in front of apartment buildings, where access is easy and oversight is nil.For an identity thief,repparttar 127578 haul can be substantial: credit cards, driver's licenses, bank statements, boxes of unused checks, Social Security payments, health insurance cards, tax information, and other sensitive data. The criminals then leverage this information to exploit existing accounts or to create new ones. They may use chemical agents to remove handwritten information from stolen checks, which are then repurposed and cashed. They run up bills, pass bad checks, buy cars and houses, engage in various other criminal practices and, inrepparttar 127579 end, pinrepparttar 127580 whole mess on you.Besides ease of access, mail thieves have another big advantage:repparttar 127581 time it can take you to realize that something is amiss. When outbound letters vanish, it's assumed that they're headed for their destination;repparttar 127582 disappearance of inbound mail generally passes unnoticed. Depending onrepparttar 127583 data thatrepparttar 127584 thieves manage to grab, your first sign of fraud might come as quickly as your next credit card statement assuming that it gets to you at all or months later, whenrepparttar 127585 IRS orrepparttar 127586 FBI come looking for someone with your Social Security number who's run afoul ofrepparttar 127587 law.Not thatrepparttar 127588 perpetrators necessarily come off as career criminals. "He looked like your typical neighbor," Beth Overton said ofrepparttar 127589 30ish man who strode off with her mail. "He didn't look thuggy or anything." Days later, once she had gotten overrepparttar 127590 shock, Overton decided to warn her neighbors by putting up a handwritten sign on her chain-link fence. "I wantedrepparttar 127591 neighbors to know. Besides, I didn't know how many other people might also have had their outgoing mail stolen." Fighting back against mail theft Overton was right to warn her neighbors repparttar 127592 criminals may occasionally be clean-cut, butrepparttar 127593 consequences of this crime are brutal. The good news is that mail theft and related crimes are being reported to authorities more often and are being targeted aggressively by federal law enforcement agencies.One ofrepparttar 127594 lead agencies inrepparttar 127595 fight against identity theft has beenrepparttar 127596 United States Postal Inspection Service,repparttar 127597 law enforcement branch ofrepparttar 127598 U.S. Postal Service. The USPIS is empowered by federal laws and regulations to investigate and enforce more than 200 federal statutes related to crimes againstrepparttar 127599 U.S. Mail,repparttar 127600 Postal Service, and its employees. U.S. Postal Inspectors investigate any crime in whichrepparttar 127601 U.S. Mail is used to further a scheme, whether it originated inrepparttar 127602 mail, by telephone or onrepparttar 127603 Internet.Because so much ofrepparttar 127604 criminal activity related to identity theft involvesrepparttar 127605 U.S. Mail, U.S. Postal Inspectors have long been onrepparttar 127606 front lines ofrepparttar 127607 battle against identity thieves. Mail may be stolen to obtainrepparttar 127608 information needed to apply for checks or credit cards, or to complete fraudulent applications for new cards. Financial institutions typically send checks and credit cards viarepparttar 127609 U.S. Mail making those items a succulent target for mail thieves, who can use anonymous addresses at mail drops (officially referred to as "commercial mail receiving agencies," or CMRAs) to collectrepparttar 127610 proceeds of their crimes.Last year,repparttar 127611 USPIS made 5,858 mail theft arrests. One especially dramatic operation in June 2002 had federal postal inspectors fanned out across five states in a crackdown involvingrepparttar 127612 USPIS,repparttar 127613 U.S. Marshals Service,repparttar 127614 Secret Service, several police departments, and identity theft task forces from several states. The operation netted more than 100 arrests in California alone. The first quarter of fiscal year 2004 (from 1 October to 31 December 2003) saw 1,522 mail theft and identity theft arrests byrepparttar 127615 USPIS nationally; 124 of those occurred inrepparttar 127616 territory ofrepparttar 127617 San Francisco office, which includesrepparttar 127618 San Francisco Bay area, Silicon Valley, Sacramento, Stockton, and Fresno.According to Paul FX Lowery, an inspector withrepparttar 127619 San Francisco office ofrepparttar 127620 USPIS, mail theft is skyrocketing throughoutrepparttar 127621 Western states. Some steal mail to fuel their drug addictions; others buy cars and wide-screen televisions. Increasingly, organized crime rings also view mail fraud as an easy entry into big-time identity theft. "It'srepparttar 127622 most opportunistic crime inrepparttar 127623 United States," says Lowery. "It's a bottomless cookie jar for these mail thieves."Everyone is a target Northern California U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan has no trouble identifying with victims of mail theft. Ryan and his wife were targeted last summer by a ring that made off with his Social Security number and his bank access code, even managing to write and cash several checks before he discoveredrepparttar 127624 theft. They have yet to restore their financial information torepparttar 127625 state it was in beforerepparttar 127626 whole mess came down, says Ryan. "It's not fun," he adds.The ring that targeted him has yet to be caught. But Ryan can point to one success story:repparttar 127627 case against Shawn Webb Fitzgerald in San Francisco. The 26 year-old Fitzgerald who admitted to stealing bank numbers, credit card information, and brokerage statements, and creating files on his victims as far back to December 2001 was charged with stealing some 7,000 pieces of mail and possessing a counterfeit mailbox key. Last May, Fitzgerald was sentenced to 105 months in prison.Postal Inspector Robert Carlson, ofrepparttar 127628 San Francisco division ofrepparttar 127629 United States Postal Inspection Service, deals with "external crimes mail theft" mail stolen from external sources and used to commit identity theft and other fraud-related crimes. Once a perpetrator has been caught, says Carlson,repparttar 127630 crime is relatively simple to prove, and conviction rates are high. And unlike some fraud-related crimes, this is an area where "current laws are pretty inclusive." Perpetrators are most commonly charged with possession of stolen mail under U.S. Code 1708, a crime that can land them in federal prison for up to five years.Becauserepparttar 127631 crimes investigated by Carlson and his colleagues are violations of federal law, prosecutions are handled byrepparttar 127632 U.S. Attorney's office. But Carlson emphasizes that postal investigators work closely with local police departments as well. "For instance, we rely heavily onrepparttar 127633 local police to notify us if they find stolen mail inrepparttar 127634 course of an arrest," he points out.An organized crime

Cont'd on page 2 ==> © 2005
Terms of Use