A new study says there are more than 10,000 identity fraud rings in the United States, with some found in Detroit but the highest concentration of fraud mostly in the southeast, specifically Washington D.C.; Tampa, FL; Greenville, MS, Macon, GA; and Montgomery, AL.
The study — from fraud-fighting firm ID Analytics — defined “identity fraud rings” as a group of two or more career criminals, family members, and/or friends.
The study says these groups steal victims’ identities and improperly use sensitive personal information like birth dates or Social Security numbers to fudge credit applications and related services.
After examining 1.7 billion applications for bankcards, wireless services, and retail credit cards over the course of three years, the study found the most fraud among wireless carriers.
ID Analytics called Georgia and South Carolina “two noted hotbeds of fraudulent activities across all three industries,” and said two bankcard fraud rings in Florida (specifically in Gainesville and Orlando) each filed 200 applications.
For example, the study examined a family of five in Florida that was involved in a fraud ring for more than three years. The family, with ages ranging from 24 to 37, had filed at least 130 fraudulent applications, using more than eight Social Security numbers and 11 birth dates during that time period.
Striking Belt of Fraud
In an interview with American Banker, ID Analytics’ chief technology officer said this latest study defied earlier ways of how society typically looks at identity fraud.
“In my previous research into identity fraud, most ID fraudsters have tended to be in urban areas, in high-population-density areas,” said Dr. Stephen Coggeshall.
“I expected the fraud rings to be there, too, but it turned out to be the opposite — these groups of people tend to be in rural areas. There’s a striking belt of fraud that cuts across the Southeast, going from Virginia across the Carolinas, across Georgia and into Alabama. It’s the rural parts of those states where this fraud belt is occurring.”
Safeguarding Your Social Security Number
As we’ve reported for years, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Most people are unaware that someone has fraudulently used their Social Security number until they are turned down for credit or begin to get calls from unknown creditors demanding payment for items.
Just last month, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked the Social Security Administration to take steps to end new cases of identify theft against senior citizens. After gaining access to a beneficiary’s personal information, a thief simply contacts the Social Security Administration and requests that the payments be rerouted to their own account. In his letter, Schumer said approximately 50 reports of such questionable changes to account information are reported to the office every day.
What can you do if you think someone has misused your personal information or other personal information to create credit or financial problems? Consider the following steps to both fight back against fraud and prevent future cases of fraud as well:
- Visit www.idtheft.gov. Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, or call 1-877-IDTHEFT.
- Contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An identity thief also might use your Social Security number to file a tax return to receive your refund. In fact, the IRS said tax-related identity fraud was the #1 scam in its annual “dirty dozen” list of tax scams for 2012. If you think you may have tax issues because someone has stolen your identity, go to http://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection or call 1-800-908-4490.
- File an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3 gives victims of cybercrime a convenient reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. IC3 sends every complaint to one or more law enforcement or regulatory agencies with jurisdiction (including the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance).
- Monitor your credit report periodically. You can get free credit reports online at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Use a personal virtual private network in WiFi hotspots. In wireless hotspots, a VPN like Private WiFi keeps online communications safe by creating a secure “tunnel” through which all encrypted data travels. A VPN will keep you from being hacked while on public WiFi.
- Avoid online bill paying. If you’re accessing sensitive financial accounts or sensitive passwords, and you’re surfing online without a secure VPN in a wireless environment, know that anyone can see what you’re doing and steal your information.
- Turn on data encryption. Turn on this feature on your smartphone or tablet.
- Add up the numbers. If you think it won’t happen to you, think again. In 2011, the FBI reported that 300,000 identity theft victims lost a combined $1.1 billion to Internet criminals. That’s an average of about $3,666 per victim. But the problem is that the typical Internet criminal commits literally thousands of these crimes and almost never gets caught. Here’s a best-case scenario: of the 304,000 Internet crime complaints reported to the FBI in 2010, there were 1,420 cases and only six convictions. So for every 50,000 victims, one cybercriminal was convicted.
Knowing all this, what will you do today to prevent becoming a victim tomorrow?