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Law says beware: Thieves want to steal your identity

McCOMB — Law enforcement officials say identity theft is onrise, and investigating the cases presents a number of challengesfor authorities.

“Identity theft has pretty much taken over what our office isinvestigating,” said Robert Kay, a U.S. postal inspector stationedin Jackson.

Speaking Thursday to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s LawEnforcement Coordinating Committee Meeting at Percy Quin StatePark, Kay said there were approximately 11,000 mail-related arrestsin 2002. Of those, about 6,000 were related to identity theft.

“We’ve already surpassed those numbers this year,” Kay said.

Kay said the average time from when a person actually becomes anidentity theft victim to when they find out is 14 months. Theaverage time to clean up credit or other identity theft-relatedproblems is 44 months, he said.

Pursuing identity theft cases is difficult, Kay said, because itis hard to develop physical evidence.

“We try to work all the angles we can,” he said.

Kay offered three case study examples of successfully-prosecutedcases.

One prosecution originated in Brookhaven after a woman boughtthree cars using another woman’s identity.

Over a 20-year period, Kay said, the woman had three identitiesand had obtained teaching credentials from one in order to teach atvarious locations. Kay said the woman used social security numbersand monitored retirement plans in an effort to cash in onthose.

In a Rankin County case, Kay estimated a man used an elaboratescheme to rack up over $8 million in credit card purchases. Theinspector said that man monitored obituary information and tookadvantage of a 90-day credit window to open accounts in the namesof the recently-deceased.

Kay himself was the target of a female admirer, who was onprobation from an earlier Internet Beanie Baby auction scam. Hesaid the woman obtained information about him and was using it tokeep an apartment on the coast.

Kay discussed a variety of tools the postal inspection serviceuses to investigate identity theft. Among those were mailmonitoring services, controlled deliveries and computer databasesearches.

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies from acrosssouth Mississippi were represented at Thursday’s meeting.Authorities said the meeting was informative and beneficial.

Tylertown Police Chief Cap Furbush said the preventive measuresdiscussed were what he found most helpful. He mentioned the oldproverb, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

“In this case, it definitely is,” Furbush said.

During his talk, Kay said successful prosecutions do not oftenresult in jail time for offenders. Identity theft defendantsusually are sentenced to make restitution and put on probation.

Hazlehurst Police Chief Ellis Stuart indicated that the fruitsof the crime and the likelihood of less jail time to serve make thecrime more attractive.

“It’s a crime we’re seeing a lot more of,” Stuart said.

And, with the Internet and computers, investigating the cases isgetting harder because identity information can be stolen for adistance.

“They don’t have to physically be here to get your information,”Stuart said.

Lincoln County Sheriff Lynn Boyte said the meeting was veryinteresting.

“It bears out that everyone’s having the same problems,” Boytesaid.

Boyte said meetings like Thursday’s provide insight into howother law enforcement agencies are dealing with problems. Thoseideas, he said, could then be brought back to local agencies tohelp in their own communities.

“Things start happening then,” Boyte said.