“Over the last few years, we have seen identity theft become a major contributor to our overall criminal caseload,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Gilbert, who handles such cases. “The problem has become so widespread that several different federal agencies have made identity theft detection and investigation a top priority.”
The FTC isn’t alone dealing with the rise in crime; they get help from the Secret Service, the US Postal Service, the IRS and various state and local agencies all working to stamp out identity theft.
Gilbert said that in the few months in which he has been handling identity theft cases, “It is staggering to me to see just how much identity theft is occurring.”
Recently in Hinds County Circuit Court, a Jackson woman pleaded guilty to using 15 credit cards she fraudulently obtained in the victim’s name. The woman, known by a multitude of aliases, was sentenced to serve five years in prison and must pay $102,100.60 in restitution.
“The victim in the case was able to clean up most of her credit after much effort, but her ability to obtain a decent mortgage on her home was hindered by this defendant,” Attorney General Jim Hood said.
Experts say that the ease of the crime and the economic downturn have led to increasing rates of identity theft. “One factor that I think heavily contributes is how easy it has become for people to use personally identifiable information (PII) once they obtain it,” Gilbert said. “We routinely find people with boxes full of “blank” credit, debit, or stored value cards (such as gift cards), as well as the equipment to load PII onto those cards. It’s also very easy to use someone’s PII to obtain a loan or get a credit card by applying online. The hard part is getting the PII, the easy part is putting it to an illicit use.”
Of the identity thefts in the state, about a quarter of the complaints came from the Jackson area. In the last FTC survey Jackson was not among the top 50 cities according to rates of identity theft. This year it ranks 31st.
Allen Bryant, an agent in charge of the Jackson branch of the Secret Service office, said a good rule is to check credit reports annually. A credit report is likely the first place to learn if your identity has been stolen.