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February 15, 2010

Identity Theft Ruins Man's Life

Here's a pretty bad but fairly typical account of what an identity theft victim goes through -
In fewer than six months, some $900,000 in merchandise, gambling and telephone-services charges were siphoned out of his debit card. His attempts to salvage his finances have cost him nearly $100,000 and have bled dry his savings and retirement accounts. His credit score, once a strong 780, has been decimated. And his identity -- Social Security number, address, phone numbers, even historical information -- is still being used in attempts to open credit cards and bank accounts.

"I have no identity," said Crouse, 56. "I have no legacy. My identity is public knowledge and even though it's ruined, they're still using it.

"It really ruined me," he said. "It ruined me financially and emotionally."

Crouse is among the 11.1 million adults -- one in every 20 U.S. adults -- last year who have the dubious distinction of breaking the record of the number of identity-fraud victims in the U.S., according to a recent study by Javelin Strategy and Research. That figure is up 12% over 2008 and is 37% ahead of 2007. The cost to the victims: a collective $54 billion.

"The odds have never been higher for becoming a fraud victim," said James Van Dyke, Javelin president and founder. "It's an easy crime to perpetrate, a crime that's almost impossible to catch when done in a sophisticated manner and a crime in which enforcement is very limited."

Endless paperwork

Crouse can attest to that. Once an avid fan of online shopping and banking, the Bowie, Md., resident would auction on, download songs from and use his ATM card like a credit card.

He first noticed suspicious activity in his account in February of 2009 for small charges of $37 or $17.98. He had a full-time job then and was spending out of an account that generally held $30,000.

"All of a sudden it really got bad," he said. "In August the charges hit big time -- $600, $500, $100, $200 - all adding up from $2,800 to $3,200 in one day."

He called his bank immediately and started what began a tiresome process of filling out what he said finally amounted to about 20 affidavits swearing that he was not responsible for the charges. He said one day he filled out an affidavit about a charge and the next day the bank had accepted similar charges approaching $4,000.

"At that point I was going to the bank every day and looking at everything," he said. He had the time then. Five months before that he had been laid off his $180,000 a year construction-industry job.

Now he was in a double bind: His $2,300 a week net income had dwindled to $780 in unemployment checks every two weeks and his accounts were getting drained daily -- even after he closed his debit account.

He opened a new account at a new bank and the next day both accounts got hit with a $1,100 charge. The new bank told him it was keystroke malware that had likely done him in. Someone had hacked into one of the sites he visited regularly, his computer got infected and picked up all his personal information by tracking every key he struck.

While much of the fraud came from online purchases and at gambling sites, there were new accounts opened in different names but linked to his bank account. There was one purchase of a plasma TV from a Best Buy in Florida that was shipped to a Brooklyn. N.Y., address. In another case a woman in North Carolina was writing out checks tied to his account.

"It was nasty," he said, admitting that he even contemplated suicide. "I just couldn't take it. I didn't feel like a man anymore. I was violated and I didn't know what to do."

High-value targets

Identity thieves steal mostly through two means, according to Michael Stanfield, chief executive of Intersections Inc., a risk-management firm. They take an established address and phone number of an identity that "has some value," he said, like a doctor or a lawyer. In many instances, they can go to the Internet and acquire the matching Social Security number for as little as $50. They then have enough information to get an address changed with your bank account or a credit card account. They apply for new accounts as you.
For the rest of the article, see here -

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