Identity Theft

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Every 79 seconds a thief steals someone's identity, and with those IDs thieves stole a total of $100 million just last year.

Local law enforcement officials say identity theft is a growing problem in our area, one that hit too close to home for a Loves Park woman.

For nearly a year Barbara Cartsens has been tracking down the woman who stole her identity and working to keep credit cards and personal information out of the woman's hands.

"This doesn't happen to me. You go through and think this happens to other people," said Cartsens.

In March of 2002, American Express alerted Cartsens that someone tried to apply for a credit card in her name. She later discovered some had applied for dozens of cards in her name and many were already in the mail.

"Your Social Security number is out there everywhere," Cartsens said. "It's scary knowing all she needed was my name and Social Security number. She knows nothing else about me and she can get a credit card in my name."

By spending eight hours a day on the phone for several weeks, Cartsens discovered a woman using a P.O. box in New York was responsible and that woman also had a state ID in her name. But police couldn't help Carstens because she'd lost no money.

"Basically they told me their hands were tied because it's non-threatening crime," Cartsens said.

Non-threatening or not, it's consumed hundreds of hours of Cartsens' time, taken away her sense of security and created credit troubles.

"It creates major hassles for the people who it happens to, and many say it's like part of them has been stolen," said Paul Logli, Winnebago Co. State's attorney

Logli says ID theft is a hard crime to track down and even harder to prosecute.

"It might make somebody feel better if somebody is going to prison, but that interferes with the payment of restitution," said Logli.

Logli says restitution is rarely successful, and victim's like Cartsens spend the rest of their lives trying to battle the false identity.

"The credit cards I will know about because of the reports. The others things she's gotten in my name, I won't know about until they track me down later," said Cartsens.

The woman in New York applied for credit cards in Cartsens name as recently as last November, and just changed Cartsens birth date on her credit report.

Experts recommend taking these steps to prevent identity theft.

First shred pre-approved credit card offers, secure your mail, monitor your credit report for any changes, and put fraud alerts on your information by calling the three credit agencies:

  • Experian 1-888-397-3742
  • Equifax 1-800-525-6285
  • Transunion 1-800-680-7289 Extended Web Coverage

ID Theft

  • Identity theft is a crime in which the imposter obtains key pieces of information such as Social Security and driver's license numbers to obtain credit, merchandise and services in the name of the victim.

  • The victim is left with a ruined credit history and the time-consuming and complicated task of regaining financial health.

  • It is a dual crime, committed against an individual whose name and good credit history was ruined and against businesses who lost cash and merchandise.

Prevention Tips

  • Carefully destroy papers you don't need, especially those with sensitive or identifying information. Buy and use a good, cross-cut paper shredder.

  • Guard your Social Security Number. Don't carry your social security card with you. That also includes any cards or badges that may include this number on it. Resist giving it out unless necessary. Don't put SSN on checks.

  • Check all three of your credit reports once a year. This is one of the best ways to find out if someone is using your information without your knowledge. In most cases it will cost about $8 for each report unless you are a victim of financial crime or turned down for a job or credit due to your credit report.

    TransUnion: 800-888-4213 (fraud div.- 800-680-7289)
    Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (fraud div.- 888-397-3742)
    Equifax: 800- 685-1111 (fraud div.- 800-525-6285)

  • Block your name from marketing lists- 888-5OPTOUT. This is cut down on the number of pre-approved credit card offers you receive.

  • Guard your personal information. Carry as little as possible in your wallet. Get credit cards with your picture on them. Be alert to shoulder surfers listening for information. Cancel any credit cards you no longer use. That means contacting the company, not just cutting up the card. Keep confidential information in a locked area.

  • Be suspicious of telephone solicitors. Never give out information unless you have initiated the call. You should never need to give a social security number to a sales clerk.

  • Watch what happens to your credit card when you give it to a clerk. The instances of double skimming are on the rise. Double skimming occurs when the clerk not only charges you for your purchase but also runs your card through a computer scanner. Later this information is downloaded on a counterfeit card and used by imposters.

  • Demand that the businesses you frequent take good care of your information and find out how they protect you from ID theft.

Source: (Identity Theft Resource Center Web site) contributed to this report.