Tracking Identity Theft

February 26, 2008 8:41:27 PM PST
One in seven people has his or her identity stolen -- costing untold amounts of time and money. ABC7's Cheryl Burton shows us why some victims have trouble just reporting the crime.

It comes down to resources. Law enforcement agencies says they don't have enough people to fight crime, especially violent crime. So, when it comes to identity theft, getting help can be a challenge.

Chances are, it has either happened to you...

"A lot of charges started showing up on our debit card," said Phyllis Huggins, South Side resident.

Or to someone you know...

"They're working under her name in Florida, bought a Mercedes and now she can't claim her taxes," said Tanay Rivera, Northwest Side resident.

Identity theft is the nation's No. 1 consumer complaint, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A recent survey reports it cost an estimated $49.3 billion in 2006. Much of that is initially absorbed by banks and credit card companies but eventually passed on to consumers.

"The victim in identity theft is really a collective victim. It's the victim whose identity is compromised, but it's also the overall financial services community and all consumers," said Kevin Lampeter, HSBC.

HSBC is one of several financial services companies that have banded together to form the Identity Theft Assistance Center. ITAC, as it's called, helps victims restore their identity and works with law enforcement to catch and convict thieves.

"ITAC told me to go to the police department right away," said Barbara Ramirez.

Ramirez did that but ran into trouble.

"When I went to the police department, that's where I had a real difficult time. The first officer did not want to take the report," said Ramirez.

Ramirez says, after a half-hour of haggling and still being refused, she waited until a shift change and had better luck with a different officer.

"I don't know if they thought maybe I was trying to pull a scam and didn't want to pay my bills because that's certainly how he made me feel," Ramirez said.

If your identity has been stolen, you may need a police report to help clear your name. Even though it's the law in Illinois for police to make a report if you request one, many consumers say they have run into roadblocks.

Both the Federal Trade Commission and the attorney general's office admit no agency is tallying consumer complaints or acting as a watchdog to ensure compliance with the law. Anthony D'Angelo heads the FBI's "Identity Theft Task Force." He says too few resources could be to blame.

"I can talk on the federal level. Say someone calls in and they're a victim of identity theft, for us to address it just because of our personnel resources, it has to be part of a larger scheme," said D'Angelo.

Thieves ripped off Joseph Fay's identity a year after he died.

"They had purchased three properties amounting to $600,000," D'Angelo said. "I would advise anyone that does lose a spouse to call those credit companies immediately and state this person is deceased."

A woman who was part of a mortgage fraud ring was convicted in that crime. But authorities don't keep count of how many identity thieves are convicted compared to the number of complaints.

More than 50 percent of identity fraud cases are traced back to someone the victim knows -- a relative, a friend or someone with whom they've done business. And, as security on the internet improves, investigators say old tricks like dumpster diving and phone soliciting are spiking. So shred everything that contains personal information.

Click here for Identity Theft Resources