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IDENTITY THEFT THRIVES IN CYBERSPACE NAMES, NUMBERS EASY TO FIND ONLINE, AUTHORITIES SAY

Source: APB News

Posted on March 12, 2000

      The information superhighway has become an express lane for identity theft, according to US federal law enforcement agents.

      The growth of the Internet, with its gigabytes of personal information floating around in cyberspace, has given criminals a quick and easy way to ferret out or even hack into computer systems to gather enough personal information to steal someone's identity.

      That was the warning Tuesday from Gregory Regan, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service's Finance Crimes Division, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information.

      Identify theft occurs when someone gains access to a person's basic information, including name, addresses and credit card or Social Security numbers, and uses that information to open new charge and bank accounts, order merchandise or borrow money. "As financial institutions and merchants become more cautious in their approach to hand-to-hand transactions, the criminals are looking for other venues to compromise," Regan said. "Today, criminals need look no further than the Internet."

      Regan said a recent case investigated by the Secret Service and other federal agencies shows how easily Internet-savvy criminals can get personal information from public sources -- in this case a promotion list of high-ranking military officers on a public Web site. In the past, published lists included the officers' Social Security numbers.

      Regan said that in this particular case, the financial institution, in an effort to operate in a consumer-friendly manner, issued credit over the Internet in less than a minute.

      "Approval for credit was granted after conducting a credit check for the applicant who provided a true name and matching true Social Security number," said Regan. "All other information provided, such as the date of birth, address and telephone number, which could have been used for further verification, was fraudulent. The failure of this bank to conduct a more comprehensive verification process resulted in substantial losses and more importantly a long list of high-ranking military officers who became victims of identity fraud."

      Regan said the Internet offers the anonymity that criminals desire. "In the past, fraud schemes required false identification documents and necessitated a face-to-face exchange of information and identity verification," Regan said. "Now with just a laptop and modem, criminals are capable of perpetrating a variety of financial crimes without identity documents through the use of stolen personal information."




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