AG works to combat ID thefts

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

Instances of identify theft are growing across the country, theMississippi Attorney General’s Office is taking steps to helppeople prevent the spread of the troublesome crime.

“Identity theft is the fastest-growing white collar crime inAmerica,” said Grant Hedgepeth, special assistant attorney generalin the office’s new ID theft unit, Wednesday while speaking to theBrookhaven Kiwanis Club.

Hedgepeth said Mississippi is one of only 10 states to have anestablished ID theft unit. ID theft involves the taking of SocialSecurity numbers, bank or credit card numbers or other personalinformation to set up fraudulent accounts or conduct other criminalactivity.

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“You may not know you have these accounts for months or years,”Hedgepeth said. “But they are showing up on your creditreport.”

For victims, ID theft is a major nuisance at best. At worst, itcan land a victim in jail for crimes he or she did not commit,Hedgepeth said.

For people who believe they are victims of ID theft, Hedgepethsaid the AG’s office is providing a new identification card. Thecard tells police or bank officials to take a closer look beforeacting on a possible arrest or addressing a financialsituation.

“It can save you a lot of trouble,” Hedgepeth said.

On the enforcement side, Hedgepeth said a law that went intoeffect July 1 establishes a $10,000 fine for identity theft andincreases the maximum jail term from five to 15 years. It also setsup a minimum two-year sentence.

“We’re averaging a new case a day, and we’ve been doing that forabout six weeks,” Hedgepeth said of ID theft unit activity.

If a person believes he a victim of ID theft, Hedgepethrecommended they first contact the local police department to fillout a report and then the AG’s office. Next, he should contact themajor credit bureaus to request a fraud alert be placed on hiscredit report.

If a person’s credit card is stolen, Hedgepeth said the losslimit is $50 per card. The limit on a lost ATM card variesdepending on how quickly the loss is reported to the bank.

To prevent possible “dumpster diving” by ID thieves, Hedgepethrecommended people shred any documents containing personalinformation before disposing of them.

Also, people should be cautious about raising the red flag ontheir mailboxes, as thieves could take mail from the box and alterit for their uses. Among high-tech methods, people should notrespond to any telephone or Internet request asking for personalinformation for verification of an account.

“A legitimate business will never do that,” Hedgepeth said.

Hedgepeth called Nigeria and eastern Europe are the “identitytheft capitals of the world.” He said people should avoid doingbusiness with those parts of the world.

Other ways to guard against ID theft include getting a new800-number for driver’s license instead of having it be one’sSocial Security number. Also, adding a thumb print to one’sdriver’s license is another means to try and curb ID theft.

“What you need to do is protect your information,” Hedgepethsaid. “Your information is one of your most valuable assets.”